Sheila Heti Quotes
“Most people live their entire lives with their clothes on, and even if they wanted to, couldn't take them off. Then there are those who cannot put them on. They are the ones who live their lives not just as people but as examples of people. They are destined to expose every part of themselves, so the rest of us can know what it means to be a human.
Most people lead their private lives. They have been given a natural modesty that feels to them like morality, but it's not -- it's luck. They shake their heads at the people with their clothes off rather than learning about human life from their example, but they are wrong to act so superior. Some of us have to be naked, so the rest can be exempted by fate.”
“Because people who live their lives this way can look forward to a single destiny, shared with others of this type - though such people do not believe they represent a type, but feel themselves distinguished from the common run of man, who they see as held down by the banal anchors of the world. But while others actually build a life in which things gain meaning and significance, this is not true of the puer. Such a person inevitably looks back on life as it nears its end with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, aware of what they have built: nothing. In their quest for a life without failure, suffer, or doubt, that is what they achieve: a life empty of all those things that make a human life meaningful. And yet they started off believing themselves too special for this world!
But - and here is the hope - there is a solution for people of this type, and it's perhaps not the solution that could have been predicted. The answer for them is to build on what they have begun and not abandon their plans as soon as things start getting difficult. They must work - without escaping into fantasies about being the person who worked. And I don't mean work for its own sake, but they must choose work that begins and ends in a passion, a question that is gnawing at their guts, which is not to be avoided but must be realized and live through the hard work and suffering that inevitably comes with the process.
They must reinforce and build on what is in their life already rather than always starting anew, hoping to find a situation without danger. Puers don't need to check themselves into analysis. If they can just remember this - It is their everlasting switching that is the dangerous thing, and not what they choose - they might discover themselves saved. The problem is the puer ever anticipates loss, disappointment, and suffering - which they foresee at the very beginning of every experience, so they cut themselves off at the beginning, retreating almost at once in order to protect themselves. In this way, they never give themselves to life - living in constant dread of the end. Reason, in this case, has taken too much from life.
They must give themselves completely to the experience! One things sometimes how much more alive such people would be if they suffered! If they can't be happy, let them at least be unhappy - really, really unhappy for once, and then the might become truly human!”
“There's so much beauty in this world that it's hard to begin. There are no words with which to express my gratitude at having been given this one chance to live - if not Live. Let other people frequent the nightclubs in their tight-ass skirts and Live. I'm just sitting here, vibrating in my apartment, at having been given this one chance to live.”
“There is a kind of sadness in not wanting the things that give so many other people their life's meaning. There can be sadness at not living out a more universal story - the suppose life cycle - how out of one life cycle another cycle is supposed to come. But when out of your life, no new cycle comes, what does that feel like? It feels like nothing. Yet there is a bit of a let-down feeling when the great things that happen in the lives of others - you don't actually want those things for yourself.”
“The conversation went on for another half hour, before this man's girlfriend, who had not said much of anything until then, remarked, Being a woman, you can't just say you don't want a child. You have to have some big plan or idea of what you're going to do instead. And it better be something great. And you had better be able to tell it convincingly - before it even happens - what the arc of your life will be.”
“It’s like the story my religious cousin told me when we were at her home for Shabbat dinner- of the girl who made chicken the way her mother did, which was the way her mother did: always tying the chicken legs together before putting it in the pot. When the girl asked her mother why she tied the legs together, her mother said, That’s the way my mother did it. When the girl asked her grandmother why she did it that way, her grandmother said, That’s how my mother did it. When she asked her great-grandmother why it was important to tie the chicken legs together, the woman replied, That’s the only way it would fit in my pot.
I think that is how childbearing feels to me: a once-necessary, now sentimental gesture (42).”
“As I was watching, I thought about how unfair it was that she and I had to think about having kids - that we had to sit here talking about it, feeling like if we didn't have children, we would always regret it. It suddenly seemed like a huge conspiracy to keep women in their thirties - when you finally have some brains and some skills and experience - from doing anything useful with them at all. It is hard to when such a large portion of your mind, at any given time, is preoccupied with the possibility - a question that didn't seem to preoccupy the drunken men at all.”
“perhaps that’s what it’s for – self-confidence and courage and energy and peace – perhaps it’s to be used in the world. Perhaps there’s only one thing to do with it: spend it.
I’m always super-conscious of how whenever I go out into the world, whenever I get involved in a relationship, my idea of who I think I am utterly collides with the reality of who I actually am. And I continue to go out even though who I am always comes up short. I always prove myself to be less generous, less charming, less considerate, not as bold or energetic or intelligent or courageous as I imagined in my solitude. And I’m always being insulted, or snubbed, or disappointed. And I’m never in my pyjamas.
And yet, in some way, maybe this is better. Each of us in this room could suffer the pangs of withdrawal and gain the serenity of the non-smoker. We could be demi-gods in our little castles, all alone, but perhaps, at heart, none of us here wants that. Maybe the only cure for self-confidence and courage is humility. Maybe we go out in order to fall short... because we want to learn how to be good at being people... and moreover, because we want to be people.”
“When I strip away my dreams, what I imagine to be my potential, all the things I haven't said, what I imagine I feel for other people in the absence of my expressing it, all the rules I've made for myself that I don't follow--I see that I've done as little as anyone else in this world to deserve the grand moniker I.”
“But two years into our parties, I surveyed the scene from the corner and wondered, Why are we having these parties? What were we making, coming together like that? We were trying to prove that we had everything because we had parties, but I began to feel like we had nothing but parties. If anyone from the future could look back on what we were building, I was sure they would say, That could only have been built by slaves.”
“Sholem [a painter] was saying that freedom, for him, is having the technical facility to be able to execute whatever he wants, just whatever image he has in his mind. But that's not freedom! That's control, or power. Whereas I think Margaux understands freedom to be the freedom to take risks, the freedom to do something bad or appear foolish. To not recognize that difference is a pretty big thing. [...]
"It's like with improv," Misha said. "True improv is about surprising yourself--but most people won't improvise truthfully. They're afraid. What they do is pull from their bag of tricks. They take what they already know how to do and apply it to the present situation. But that's cheating! And cheating's bad for an artist. It's bad in life--but it's really bad in art." -p.20-1, How Should A Person Be”
“It seemed to me like all my worrying about not being a mother came down to this history - this implication that a woman is not an end in herself. She is a means to a man, who will grow up to be an end in himself, and do something in the world. While a woman is a passageway through which a man might come. I have always felt like an end in myself - doesn't everyone? - but perhaps my doubt that being an end-in-myself is enough comes from this deep lineage of women not being seen as ends, but as passageways through which a man might come. If you refuse to be a passageway, there is something wrong. You must at least try. But I don't want to be a passageway through which a man might come, then manifest himself in the world however he likes, without anyone doubting his right.”
“Living one way is not a criticism of every other way of living. Is that the threat of the woman without kids? Yet the woman without kids is not saying that no woman should have kids, or that you-woman with a stroller- have made the wrong choice. Her decision about her life is no statement about yours. One person's life is not a political or general statement about how all lives should be. Other lives should be able to exist alongside our own without any threat or judgment at all.”
- Date of birth: December 25, 1976
- Born: in Toronto, Canada.
- Description: Sheila Heti is the author of five books; three books of fiction, a children's book, and a work of non-fiction with Misha Glouberman. She is Interviews Editor at The Believer and is known for her long interviews. She lives in Toronto.