Claire Dederer: I had written for many years on these three subjects. I'd been thinking about doing a book on motherhood for a while, but the thing didn't really take off till I tried melding the three subjects together.
The way that happened was a little serendipitous. In 2007, my family and I were spending a year living on the top of a mountain in Colorado. One spring day we were snowed in, with huge drifts around the house, and I couldn't get to yoga class. So I was doing poses at home. Doing my yoga alone really got me to thinking about what complicated emotions and thoughts I had about each pose.
These feelings, once I thought about them, were almost hilariously rich and developed: I had a kind of love affair with headstand; I was in a gigantic argument with revolved triangle.
At that moment, I got the idea to edit an anthology of essays by different authors. Not yoga experts, but writers who are funny and good at parsing their experiences. Each author would write about a different pose. I told my husband, who is also a writer, and he immediately said, "Why don't you just try writing the whole thing yourself?"
The minute he said it, I was off and running.
Q: You're also playing with several layers of story in this book--your growing-up years, your search via yoga, and your struggles with motherhood. How did you decide to weave them together?
I wrote the childhood, the motherhood, and the yoga sections separately, and then wove them together once they were completed. I looked for ways to guide the reader through the transitions in terms of keeping the story clear and giving time cues, but I also relied on the reader's ability to make the leap.
At times I transition very abruptly, which I think actually works quite well. In my current writing I'm experimenting with making the transitions even more abrupt.
At times, the difficulty was visceral--it just felt scary to tell so much truth about my emotional state. But it was necessary to the story.
After a while I learned that if I was starting to feel uncomfortable about something I was writing, I should go toward that material, rather than turning away.
Emotional honesty is the raison d'etre of memoir. It's our job to explore difficult feelings, so the reader can have that experience of recognizing his or herself in the story and finding comfort in that recognition. Without the generosity (and rigor) of that kind of honesty, memoir becomes a narcissistic wank. I believe that's a technical term.
Q: What's your favorite part of the book?
CD: I'm really proud of how funny it is. Funny is harder than it looks; it takes a lot of work. Aside from that, I adored writing about my hippie childhood.