Search for spirituality blends yoga, family and Island values
By MARY L. GRADY
Mercer Island Reporter Editor
September 21, 2011 · Updated 10:00 AM
Don’t be put off by the title. In her book, “Yoga Bitch,” Islander native Suzanne Morrison leads readers through her search for spirituality with a good deal of candor and humor. A product of Island schools and a daughter of Islanders Kathy and Frank Morrison Jr., the author gives a colorful and honest assessment of herself and those around her in her tumultuous journey through yoga via Bali to enlightenment. The book has become a hit and is being published in Europe as well as the United States. Morrison has recently logged thousands of miles appearing at readings and marketing events. We spoke to Morrison at a stopover in San Francisco about how her youth here and her family have shaped her life and profession and the journey she describes in her book.
As a kid, did you hang out at the library, read in bed with a flashlight or roam Island Books dreaming of being an author?
All of the above. I remember my mother would take my Christmas list to Roger Page at Island Books. He would even pick other books for me that he thought I should read.
In the book, you often refer to the journal you keep. Have you always kept a journal?
I started writing in a journal in the fourth grade and have ever since. I have hauled the journals I wrote beginning from age 16 on in all of my moves. The early books are in still in a box in my parents’ basement.
Can you talk about how the values and expectations of your family played a role in your book?
I was raised in the Catholic church, but by the time I was to be confirmed I could not intellectually go along. But I was always interested in spirituality. Then Sept. 11 happened and everything changed. All of the sudden that spiritual journey became more important to me. I think it was a process of coming back to what I had stepped away from.
My family played a huge role in how I looked at the world. We ate dinner together every night. There were four of us kids. We had very intelligent conversations around the dinner table; we would talk about what happened to us — and what was really important. My mother devised a way to get everyone to contribute with something we called “positive and negative.” We would go around the table and everyone would describe something positive that happened to us during the day and one negative thing. That sort of talk and truth-telling was how I was raised. And my father, being the attorney, always wanted to know both sides of the story — the good and the bad.
Were you allowed to use some of the more colorful language you used in the book at home? Smoke? What about living with a boyfriend?
Heavens, no. Never. I only lived with my boyfriend years later. It was OK then because my mother did not want me living by myself in New York.
Did you censor yourself as you went along in the book? Did you warn your family beforehand of what might be coming?
The book was my attempt to tell the truth completely. I did not censor myself. I wanted to be completely honest. When it was about to be published, I lost a lot of sleep. It was harrowing to think that everyone would see what I did and thought. Now I feel great about it; it was emboldening. This was the right way to do this work. After all, the truth is what you are suffering for.
What about growing up in Mercer Island influenced your approach to writing or your observations of others in the book?
In elementary school, Frank Perry, a teacher, singled me out to read one of my stories in class. That was kind of a beginning for me. He always encouraged me in my writing. Another teacher, Carol Muth, had us memorize poems, some that I can still recite. Mr. Perry told me the most important thing is to grab the readers with the first sentence. I always think of that. It was from that time that I knew I wanted to write books.
What have you learned since your book has been published? What has surprised you?
Most congratulate me about the book which is great. What has surprised me the most is how people relate themselves and their own experience to the book.
Much of what I have heard from the yoga community is positive, but I have learned that readers come to the topic and the book with their own ideas and expectations. As much as many as have liked the book, others do not. It is crazy trying to believe or understand what everybody thinks of the book. So you just can’t try to. One thing that is very gratifying is that several people have told me that what I wrote about yoga and my experience, is what everybody thinks, but no one dares to say out loud.
What is the question that you are most asked about the book — what is the dumbest?
Most people ask if the people I was with in Bali (who are in the book) have read the book. They have. (Her roommate in Bali, Jessica, remains a good friend.) The dumbest question is whether or not I really drank my own pee. (Also referred to in the book). They are incredulous. But really, after everything else I reveal in the book, I would make this up? But, yes, I did.
And does she still practice yoga? Yes, she does.
Suzanne Morrison will appear at 7 p.m., Sept. 30, at Island Books.
Contact Mercer Island Reporter Editor Mary L. Grady at email@example.com or (206) 232-1215 ext. 1050.