WHO: George Minot
WHAT: OM LOVE, a novel
WHEN: Published by Knopf
August 17, 2012
WHERE: Set in downtown Manhattan
WHY: It’s a love story about a once-trendy artist who finds his life reinvigorated by his new yoga practice…and a certain barefooted yoga instructor.
THE AUTHOR TALKS ABOUT HIS NEW BOOK:
Q: Was there a particular event or idea that inspired you to write Om Love? How did your own experience inform your writing? What do you have in common with Billy?
A: Billy is not me. But my experience informs the whole book. I got really into yoga and fell in love—at the same time. It was a wonderful, transformative period of my life. To fully appreciate and assimilate what happened—especially internally: emotionally, spiritually—I wrote about it.
In writing about it, I changed everything, transformed the lived experience into a story and a kind of vision of voice, sensation, emotion. The transformative trick of art: to hopefully create out of my experience—both positive and painful—a gift for others, that they may relate to, or identify with, or learn from, or get comfort from. Or at least enjoy.
In writing about it, I changed. If I can impart something positive to readers flowing from my experience—maybe to help give value or depth or something enhanced to another person—I’ve succeeded.
What sets yoga apart from other exercise fads like aerobics? Why is yoga a lifelong practice?
Yoga is not a sport. It’s a way of being. It’s a spiritual practice. If it’s understood and taught properly. Which it often is not. The progress is slow, steady, internal—psychic, spiritual. It takes years, decades—a lifetime (lifetimes). You never really “get there”—except each time you practice. The whole point is the process, the inner transformations, by grueling, gradual degrees of effort, intention, repetition, grace.
The physical aspect—doing the asanas, the breathing, everything you do when you take a yoga class—is just the physical aspect. They are the means and access to the deeper psychic and spiritual layers. Many teachers and practitioners don’t go much beyond the physical plane—except maybe to calm the mind, release tension or feel relaxed—and that’s fine. Even the purely physical practice is powerful, beneficial, transformative. But the purely physical aspect is an American phenomenon, the true tradition stripped of its core intention—which is a kind of body meditation and prayer: A practical method not only to achieve health and a strong and flexible body and mind—but to still the waters and open a channel to God-awareness, and to promote right action. Instead, yoga has become a mainstream, narcissistic fad, a business, a multi-billion dollar industry. This isn’t really yoga.
Billy thinks “Art is for those for whom life is not enough.” What does he mean by this?
It’s not a new idea that life can too often feel empty, too meaningless, plotless; that the cash and prizes we are promised and that so many devote their lives to pursuing in the end don’t lead to satisfaction. It’s our endemic soul-sickness. So pervasive as to seem inevitable. Our famous spiritual void.
Religion addresses and, for the faithful, can assuage this soul-sickness. Art used to serve religion. For many, the capitalist drive to success replaced religion. For some, art replaced religion. But the old role of art remained: to sanctify the quotidian. Writers and artists, in this way, share the role of priests: To help give enhanced spiritual or existential meaning to ordinary, difficult, humdrum life. To answer or mollify the sinking sense that This is it? This is all there is? Art helps heal soul-sickness. Or at least helps us live with it.
For many, life can be unbearable. Successful art—of any kind—can help make life bearable. Or even enjoyable.
You write about Amanda’s illness so vividly, but also about Billy’s often heartbreaking experience as her boyfriend and caretaker. How do illness, romance, love, and spirituality co-exist for Amanda and Billy?
In sickness and in health, we’re told, it’s our duty to love. Billy has a strong sense of love’s duty. That love isn’t just the good feeling, the easy part, the erotic circus act. Love is his religion, along with art. Love is a belief and an action verb—not just the emotion. He sees art as an act of love. And the practice of yoga emerges, builds, in his experience, as a kind of continuous act of love also—toward God, toward better human love. So the strong currents of love in his life merge into a singular dimension.
Spiritual love, God-love, mean nothing if they’re not grounded in actual human love, actual actions, taking care, making the meal, making the bed, holding the door for someone, biting your tongue, being nice. So Billy believes, learns, acts.
You write, “when we’re alone (in life) we feel like our life is just practice. For later. Waiting for the real thing. When love is there. The real life. And when love comes along it feels like that. Like now real life is here. This is what I’ve been waiting for. My whole life.” How is this similar to what we experience when we practice yoga? How does practicing yoga affect our relationships?
It’s interesting that the word “practice” is applied to yoga. You “practice” yoga. People also say you “do” yoga. Both are indicative of the level or type of intention. If you “do” it, maybe it’s just an activity that you do. If you say you “practice” yoga, you’re giving it a different value. It’s part of a process, a progress you work at, toward a goal. The goal has many names and aspects, elaborated in the teachings—as, for example, in the basic yoga text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
So the sense of arriving at the real deal, in the practice, can depend on how you approach and assimilate it, and especially on how it’s taught and presented to you. The ability to be here now is central to the practice. It’s something you learn. It’s hard. Meditation is hard.
Asana is easier, because you get to move. Love is the hardest of all!
When you fall in love you might have the feeling you’re centered in your life, that everything has been leading up to this, and now you’ve arrived. But this sensation is as fleeting as love. Yet also as solid and sure as love seems solid and sure. If yoga teaches us to be present, shed expectations, find some peace within, instead of trying to find it outside yourself, in another person, then maybe we have a prayer at being present for another—at actually loving someone well.
Om Love is in many ways a love letter to New York, but you describe the city as “the great magnet you can’t pull yourself off of, until you do and you feel instant peace and freedom…no wonder we need yoga here.” Does the abundance of yoga studios and raw/healthy foods contribute to New York’s magnetic pull? What keeps you coming back?
I love New York, and I mean the book to be a love letter to New York. But just because you love a place or someone or something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. Most things are not absolute, but of a mixed essence. Billy is a creature of excess – so New York, city of excess, of endless possibilities, activities, people, energy, scenes—seems to suit him perfectly. He’s entirely in his element. But what if his multifarious attachments—to the highly designed, kinetic, human meaning and density of the city – are not in fact the healthiest thing for him?
This is where Billy and I are different. He doesn’t see how addicted he is to New York. He just experiences and expresses his enthusiasms, what he sees and loves and senses. In many ways this is beautiful, culturally rich, interpersonally magnificent. But also maybe it’s consuming him, his energies, that in a more balanced setting might yield more happiness, more or better life, more or better love, more or better art. A lot of what’s great about New York can be seen as very appealing and culturally justifiable replacements for love and actual direct deep personal contact—intimacy.
All the yoga studios and health food places in New York are indications of demand for those things. People living in New York need help feeling at peace, creating health. Because the great psychic magnet of New York saps our lives. It gives energy and also takes it away. We’re delicate organisms. Living mostly cut off from nature, we need all the help we can get!
The early chapters of Om Love are named after New York streets (Second Avenue, Lafayette, Broadway-Houston, East Ninth Street, Broome & Crosby) but the later chapters are called Disaster Place, The Middle Place, and The Quiet Place. What does this transition represent for your characters?
The chapter name-places are markers on the map of the progress (and decline!) of their love story. The chapters describing the early yoga asana practice and the early love story are more physical, and the name-places accordingly are actual—the places where they occurred.
As the relationship and also the practice deepens, the physical body is replaced, in an essential sense, by the subtle body—the receptacle of emotion, thought, sensation, imagination, spiritual stirrings. So it’s appropriate that the name-places designating these later stages are abstractions —real places, but real within. What begins as the progress of their bodies and souls transported —in yoga, in sex, in love—becomes less mutual emotion and body sensation and more soul, more solo emotion, spirit. More abstract.
Maybe in love we’re seeking something that love can’t provide—inner peace.
Erica Hinsley | 212-572-2018 | firstname.lastname@example.org