Mar 27
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I read Claire Dederer‘s memoir, Poser, not long ago, around the same time I started taking yoga classes. Here’s an excerpt, which I still think about (Katharine Seidel, one of her yoga teachers, is speaking):

        “I think of yoga as a kind of counterweight to the way I behave in the rest of my life. No matter how hunched I am the rest of the time, I know that for at least an hour or so every day, I’ll have beautiful, open shoulders. I’ve given up on having them in the rest of life. I just enjoy them while I have them.”
        A counterweight. This seemed to me the pithiest description of transformation I had ever heard. You didn’t lead up to it or analyze it or try to apply it in different situations. You just created optimal situations for being different, and then you were different. You didn’t have to worry about changing everything about yourself, or fixing the fear, or being someone new. You just acted like the person you wanted to be, when and if you could.
(p. 297)

At various moments in Poser, Dederer references quotations—lines from movies, musicians, poets, psychologists, writers—including this one by the poet Muriel Rukeyser: “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” I asked her if there’s another quote, one that didn’t make it into the book, that shapes the way she thinks about something. Her generous reply below.


“You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried, too, in my time to be a philosopher, but I don’t know how; cheerfulness was always breaking in.”
—Oliver Edwards

This quote has stood me in good stead since I became a writer. In other words, my whole adult life. I love the idea that philosophy is something to aspire to, but that it is essentially gloomy. Exactly my experience. In my own writing, there’s a kind of seesawing between these two states: slightly sad philosophy and my more natural state of cheerfulness. I discovered the quote in an old Angela Thirkell book Cheerfulness Breaks In. More recently it was paraphrased by Leonard Cohen on stage. Strange bedfellows.



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