The idea of a coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking atheist attending a yoga retreat may not sound like a recipe for literary success, but Suzanne Morrison‘s memoir of her yoga experience has more in common with Woody Allen than Deepak Chopra. Yoga Bitch is as witty and irreverent as its title suggests, puncturing the bubble of yoga’s mysticism and yet, somehow, still coming out the other side enlightened and renewed. It’s like finding out that Yoda uses the Force to mix a really mean Cosmopolitan.
Part of the appeal is undoubtedly Morrison’s voice, a genuine and charming blend of Northwestern cynicism and youthful openness. Why else would a meat-eating atheist attend a Balinese yoga retreat in the first place? Her cynicism allows us skeptics to find a purchase on her quest for enlightenment, but she’s still sufficiently open to new experiences to take us on a truly enlightening journey. For those who find yoga’s self-righteous posturing a tough pill to swallow, Yoga Bitch offers a fully-caffeinated alternative.
As Morrison explores the benefits of abstinence, physical exhaustion, and drinking your own urine (no, really), she takes us on a witty journey through the reality – and humanity – of the modern yoga retreat. Yoga Bitch is so hard to put down that you may want to brew an extra-strong pot of coffee before you start.
We were lucky to chat to Suzanne Morrison shortly after the publication of Yoga Bitch, and asked her a few questions about the book’s origins, her Northwestern outlook, and the path to enlightenment.
Dan Coxon: Could you give us a brief rundown of Yoga Bitch’s road to publication? It started out as a one-woman stage show, right?
Suzanne Morrison: That’s right. It started as a one-woman show in New York City. I started working on a book version at the same time – a novel, in which I made myself much cooler and a hot redhead with an amazing rack. Back then people kept telling me I was going to have to get my book published like, tomorrow, because the yoga trend was going to be peak any day. That was in 2003.
In 2007, my agent shopped the novel around to a chorus of nos. A few editors said they’d be interested if it were memoir, and my agent, bless her, encouraged me to try my hand at it. I had absolutely no interest in writing – or reading – a memoir. But about a year later I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for the book’s structure, and within a week I had written a first chapter, and soon enough, I had a contract. Now I’m thrilled that the novel is safely tucked away in a desk drawer. This story works much better as a memoir.
DC: Do you think the book’s origins in performance have held you in good stead? Did it make structuring the book any easier?
SM: It certainly helped with the structure, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my director, Jean-Michele Gregory. She and I slaved over the show’s structure, so I didn’t have to do quite as much on that end with the book. That said, a book and a show are two different animals. The story arc might have a similar structure, but that’s where the similarities end. There was still an enormous amount of arranging and rearranging chapters. I would go cross-eyed at times, trying to make the puzzle pieces fit together seamlessly.
DC: Your story seems to be an unusual mix of openness and cynicism. Where do you stand now on the spiritual aspects of yoga? Cynic or believer?
SM: I’d say I’m still a bit cynical, and still a believer, too. Yoga has done me a lot of favors. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop thinking it’s weird that this austere spiritual practice – a practice so simple even a dog can do it – has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Because, well – it is weird.
DC: You talk about your roots in Seattle from time to time in the book. How integral do you think the Pacific Northwest is to your outlook, and your story? What brought you back here?
SM: Being from the Pacific Northwest is absolutely integral to my worldview, my story, my style. Growing up with minimal sunshine, I’m naturally inclined to spend a lot of time lolling about indoors, reading books and drinking coffee and being sort of pleasantly depressed.
I came home to Seattle not knowing if I was going to stay. I thought I might be here just for a few months and then go back to New York. But then a man happened.
I always knew I wanted to be back here eventually, however. Seattle is my town. I love it here more than anywhere else on the planet. Give me rain, give me books, give me people who actually read the books they want to talk about, give me good coffee and an endless supply of Vietnamese food, and I am as happy as a rain-soaked, coffee-addled, mildly depressed mushroom.
DC: Have you had any contact from the people you mention in the book? Any feedback on the way they’re represented?
SM: I haven’t heard from anybody other than my roommate from Bali, Jessica. She and I are still friends – I brought her a copy of the book a couple of weeks before my pub date. She’s an incredibly good sport and has been so supportive of the project. I was more worried about her than almost anybody, because she figures so prominently in the book. And well, I wrote about some pretty personal things, like her experience being revirginized. But man, she’s just awesome. So open and honest and comfortable with herself. She even let me use her real name.
DC: Do you have any tips for people who are considering taking the plunge and going on a yoga retreat?
SM: Bring a journal and make a vow to tell the absolute truth in it; that will be instructive. Be on guard for the lies you’re going to want to tell yourself. And please, for the love of god, don’t come back a whole new person with the whole world figured out. There’s really no one more insufferable than the newly semi-enlightened yogi. I should know – I have been that person.
DC: And finally, what can we expect to see from you next?
SM: I’ve got a couple of projects in the works. One, a memoir called Your Own Personal Alcatraz, about coming of age on an island in the middle of Lake Washington and the perils of first love. The other is a new solo show, called Optimism, which Jean-Michele Gregory and I workshopped last year at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. Optimism is about my fascination with serial killers, especially Ted Bundy, who was my parents’ friend. Neither of these projects involve yoga or bitches. Just a couple of bastards.
Yoga Bitch is available now from all good bookstores, and from the Random House website, priced $15.00.