The one yoga pose all working moms need

[This is a brief essay I wrote for my Bikram yoga studio‘s newsletter. It’s about how I suck at lying down.]

Savasana is my nemesis.

Who am I kidding? Every Bikram pose kicks my sore butt. Awkward pose was never meant to look this awkward. It took me two years of regular practice to even attempt standing head-to-knee, and I’m talking about the part that involves standing but not my head to my knee. If a pose is easy, I figure I’m doing it wrong. The day I lock my knees will be the day I eat my shorts.

Bikram yoga bow pose

Needless to say, this is not me.

But savasana is hardest of all. It’s not just the physical difficulty of emulating a corpse. For me, the Olympic-level hurdle is clearing my mind.

“Empty your thoughts,” the teacher says. “Clear your mind and think of nothing but your breath.” It’s like being told, “Stop thinking about elephants.” Now you can’t do anything but.

Savasana is when I make lists. Grocery lists, to-do lists, wish lists. Savasana is NOT when I should make lists. I have to remind myself of this every time.

Savasana, after all, is the one pose I need to master. As a working mom, and moreover as a writer, I desperately need those few minutes of meditation. And when by some small miracle I do achieve it, the results are nothing short of remarkable.

It is during those occasional moments of clarity that a line of dialogue or a solution to a tricky plot problem comes to me. When that happens, it’s like I hear a choir of angels. I want to break into a happy dance and shout, “Eureka!” But that would be weird.

Like many of us, I came to Bikram yoga at a tumultuous time in my life. I had just had my second child. I had just quit my longtime career as a journalist and embarked on a new and risky one writing fiction. Both my parents had just died.

That was three and a half years ago. In the time since, yoga has often felt like one of the only constants in my life. Three times a week for ninety minutes, my foremost focus is staying in the room and not falling on my face.

And someday, with practice and no small bit of faith, I’ll no longer consider savasana my nemesis but my friend.

Should writers have families?

This is my family. They need me to do stuff.

I only just got around to writing about this infuriating essay by Roger Rosenblatt in The New York Times Sunday Book Review from May 11. I only just got to it because I was busy ushering my kids out of the school year and into summer camp—with all the report cards and teacher evaluations and forms, the camp bags and the sunblock and the forms—while slamming toward my own deadlines. It begins,

So there I stood at the front of my granddaughter Jessica’s fourth-grade classroom, still as a glazed dog, while Jessie introduced me to her classmates, to whom I was about to speak. “This is my grandfather, Boppo,” she said, invoking my grandpaternal nickname. “He lives in the basement and does nothing.”

Aw, I thought, as I folded the laundry. Boppo. So sweet. But what could that mean, he “does nothing”?

…as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer.

Huh.

Writers and families don’t mix, Rosenblatt says. Writers “do not live in the real world, or wish to,” and therefore “it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do.” Families should treat writers like exotic animals or anarchists—with care and a bit of caution.

Yeah, I thought. My family treats me just like an African gray parrot. Who makes dinner and wipes butts.

But apparently I’m wrong, because writers as a species are totally useless at any of the millions of tasks that make a family function. As proof, he cites an anecdote about E.L. Doctorow, who, asked by his wife to write a note to their daughter’s school, wound up so tangled up in crafting the perfectly worded letter that his wife gave up and wrote it herself.

If the sad truth be known, writers, being the misfits we are, probably ought not to belong to families in the first place. We simply are too self-interested, though we may excuse the flaw by calling it “focused.”

What I would give to be called self-interested. Or focused.

He concludes,

The writer may not be good for the family, but the family may do wonders for the writer simply by teaching him that “it takes all kinds,” including him.

So here’s the gist: while writers add nothing but dead weight to their families, families sure do enrich a writer’s work—if only as material.

Reading his bio, I recalled that Roger Rosenblatt wrote this book and this book about how, following the death of his daughter, he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law and grandchildren. And then I felt bad, because, come on, that’s a lovely and noble thing to do. Besides, Rosenblatt is the grandfather in the house, not the father. It’s enough that he’s there. Surely he’s entitled to “do nothing.” He’s earned it.

But he doesn’t speak for me. Nor any writer I know.

I suppose his kind of writer exists among my generation. There’s probably a 40-year-old genius in Brooklyn who hunches over his laptop while ignoring his wife’s plea for a hand with a poopy diaper. But I doubt it. Because very soon he’d be divorced, or dead.

Notice I speculate only about a dude. That’s because no way any writer mom would ever be accused of self-interest. Or focus.

Rosenblatt cites Alexander Pope and John Cheever and George Seurat as artists who viewed family as an impediment. Of course, many male writers marry. I’ve read that John Updike wrote three pages a day, every day, even when his kids were little. Which leads me to suspect he wasn’t changing those poopy diapers.

And yet, moms write. And sometimes, we write well. Jennifer Egan’s said that she wrote her Pulitzer-winning book during the hours of 9 and 2, in between the school run. If she’s like me, during that time she’s also shoving in the laundry and marinating the ribs and buying the gifts for the weekend birthday parties.

I’m not really mad at Roger Rosenblatt. He’s a distinguished journalist whose work I’ve long admired. I’m just pointing out that some writers, many writers, don’t get to check out from family life. Without us, our families would fall apart. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.