Opinion | Sheila Heti: ‘My Mother Cannot Help Me Through This’

A Diary in
Alphabetical Order

I started looking back at the diaries over the past decade about 10 years ago. I wondered if I’d changed. I downloaded all 500,000 words from my journals to Excel to order the sentences alphabetically. Perhaps this would help me recognize patterns and repetitions. How many times have I written? “I hate him,”For example? I was able to see my self as something solid and anchored by very few preoccupations. It grew more novelistic as I returned to it over the years. To give it some rhythm and beauty, I blurred and deleted thousands of sentences. When The Times asked me for a work of fiction that could be serialized, I thought of these diaries: The self’s report on itself is surely a great fiction, and what is a more fundamental mode of serialization than the alphabet? Here’s the final product after some editing.
This is the fifth part of a 10-part series. Get it delivered to your inbox by signing up

Give him enough money so he can live. Make him feel loved. Warmer boots are a must. Make sure you eat breakfast. Divorce and marriage are a natural part of life. Divorce is one step closer than being in a relationship. My restlessness is not solved by marriage. Maybe all the things I think about longingly, that I seem unable to do — be a certain kind of person in a loving relationship and so on — are dormant potentials in me, whereas the things we don’t fantasize about would be more likely to shut us down. Perhaps art is too dangerous. Perhaps go to Montreal for one month? Have a goal in place so that you don’t waste your time. Maybe he was right to say that I can only ever be happy if I am with a man who degrades my character. Maybe he was tired when he got home and didn’t know how to put all his complicated thoughts into an email. “Maybe he’s not your life partner,”She said. Maybe I am feeling humbled to see people younger than me succeeding, and people my own age who have lives that seem glamorous and whose writing is so different. She suggested that maybe I could get what I need through other avenues. Perhaps I could go to Italy, Florence. Maybe we could make it work together. Maybe I let things go too far and now there’s no return. Perhaps I should dig underground and learn. Perhaps I should go it alone. Maybe I should just live with him. Maybe I shouldn’t speak to anyone. Maybe I should. Perhaps I will feel lonely again. Perhaps I will be with someone. Maybe I’ll go to her for tea. Maybe I would tire of it, but for now, the idea that I could have sex every day, with Lark, or Lark himself seems appealing. Maybe I’ll even buy an old car. Maybe I’ll get my nails done at some point. Maybe I’ll spend some time in Los Angeles. Perhaps my 20s were about finding a man and writing. My 30s will be about learning how to write and being with him. Maybe nobody’s life is any different than that.

Perhaps she has had better boyfriends that me. Maybe shopping is stupid — you think about yourself in all sorts of important ways, and you’re not so important in all those ways. Maybe that’s why I feel so sick. Maybe that is when he stopped trusting me, or stopped wanting to be with me or sleep with me, and that’s when I became scared and stopped trusting him, and perhaps that’s when our conflicts began. Maybe that’s just paranoid. Maybe this is how my November feels. Maybe we can talk in person when he’s back. Meeting the same people you knew ten years ago, you’re seeing how much worse you’ve all become — more dull, more cynical about each other, less pleasant to be around. Men were always so threatening. They seemed to be like vines that would choke me and wrap themselves around my hands, and I wouldn’t get any work done. Midday has come and the sun shines with a yellow glow. Midnight. More sex. Mostly these days I’m just lying in bed. My apprenticeship in romance and my apprenticeship as an artist. My arms were strong. My book is finished. My book is failing badly. My book suddenly makes sense. My book will be finished in the next year. My brain has turned off. My brain is like the viscous stuff around a brain — that’s what it is, where it’s located, in the slippery goo between the two hemispheres, between the brain itself and the skull or between the gray matter or whatever the viscous part is; that is where my brain is located, and where my soul is located, too. After last night’s smoking, my brain feels still fried. My computer is getting slower. My courage had been circumstantial. My duty to sitting in a room and becoming a certain kind of writer, yet when I look at that future, it seems bleak to me — competing in the marketplace and whatnot. My elbow is getting better. My eyes were perfect. My flaws, which ruin other areas of my life, make it a good candidate for writing. Pavel should be with someone with big breasts. His feelings are not satisfied by mine. My friends will leave me to travel to New York, while I will stay, wishing I had gone. My hair was pulled back from my face and put in a ponytail. My head wants a commotion. My heart is cold towards him. My heart is lighter again, and everything I was going on about death seems to have disappeared. My initial point and what I wanted to say was that every situation is different, and I’m realizing that you cannot avoid unhappiness and cannot avoid pain and cannot make rules and live by them in order to lead a happy life, for I really think that that leads to a life of total isolation from people and experiences, because of course it is people and experiences that bring you pain. My jaw is tight, and I feel like I’m going to cry — why does he keep me waiting, making me suffer? Lemons has made my life a little easier. My life feels amazing. Lark can be blamed for my loneliness, but I cannot work. My love affair and devotion to Lark. My main wish for my life right now is not to think about men all the time, to ever more think about men less and less, and to look around at the world, and at my books — at the books I want to write and the work I want to do — and at other things too, and just really get over my neuroses about everything, and stop smoking and be healthy and confident inside, and to feel my own will, which is my soul, and to be able to have some control over how I react, and to be in the world in a more thoughtful way, and to come out of childhood and be a woman. From the moment I slammed it in, my middle finger is still hurting. My mind is with him since the email he sent me the other night, where he suggested that maybe he might move into the city for my benefit. These thoughts were racing through me, and I thought, “Is this good?” “No.”This is something my mother can’t help me with. My nose is raw. My nose is running. It was winter that made it so I wanted to go somewhere cold. That is why I chose St. Petersburg. My stories involve someone walking, going away, and coming back. My 20s are gone. My utter awfulness. My whole life changes.

Sheila Heti is an author of 10 books. “Motherhood,” “How Should a Person Be?”And the future “Pure Colour.”This is the fifth part of a 10-part series. Get it delivered to your inbox by signing up

Photographs by Yael MALAK.

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