Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Chairs Are Where The People Go, Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti

Misha Glouberman is my very good friend. Years ago, we started a lecture series together called Trampoline Hall, at which amateurs speak on random subjects in a bar. He was the host, and I picked the lecturers and helped them choose their topics. I was interested in finding people who were reticent about talking, rather than showy people who wanted an opportunity to perform. After three years of working on the show, I quit, but Misha kept it running.

A few years later, I really missed working with Misha, so I decided I would write a book about him. It was called The Moral Development of Misha. I got about sixty pages into the story of a man who wandered the city, who was nervous about his career and his life, yet was a force of reason in any situation. Work on it stalled, however, when I couldn't figure out how to develop him morally.

Worse than that, I never found the project as interesting as talking to my friend. I have always liked the way Misha speaks and thinks, but writing down the sorts of things he might say and think was never as pleasurable as enountering the things he actually did say and think. If I wanted to capture Misha, in all his specificity, why was I creating a fictional Misha? If I wanted to engage with Misha, why not leave my room and walk down the street?

One day, I told him I thought the world should have a book of everything he knows. (Sheila Heti, “Foreword”)
The Chairs Are Where The People Go, subtitled “How to Live, Work, and Play in the City” (Faber and Faber, 2011) by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti, is a fasinating book, in part for the fact that no-one is entirely sure how to categorize it. Is it self-help, biography, philosophy, or something else entirely? The Chairs Are Where The People Go is a book of monologues by Toronto artist and performer Misha Glouberman, as told to his close friend, writer Sheila Heti, who seems to disappear entirely, immediately following her utterly charming “Foreword.” Some have suggested that this new is book a sequel to Sheila Heti's second novel, How Should A Person Be? (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2010) [see my review of such here], a semi-fiction that came from a similar core, both books working from similar explorations of moral existance in the city, both books from the same kernals of research, from the same relationship between the author and a close friend, from Margaux Williamson to her partner, Misha Glouberman. Not exactly a sequel not extension, perhaps the books are sibling projects, or two halves of a larger whole. 
45. Seeing Your Parents Once a Week 

Visit your parents once a week. Agree on the day, and see each other every week on that day. This is what I do. It helps because there are no negotiations about when I should see my parents, and there are no exceptions or guilt on either side as a result of this agreement.. I see them on Sunday nights, with my girlfriend. Usually they make or buy us dinner, and sometimes they even pick us up and drive us home, so it's okay.
The Chairs Are Where The People Go is made up of seventy-two short chapters composed as dictations on a seemingly-bizarre and wide-ranging series of subjects, with titles such as “How to Make Friends in a New City,” “How to Be Good at Playing Charades,” “How to Teach Charades,” “How to Improvise, and How Not to Not Improvise,” “Doing One Thing Doesn't Mean You're Against Something Else,” “Why Robert McKee Is Wrong About Casablanca,” “Making the City More Fun for You and Your Privileged Friends Isn't a Super-Noble Political Goal,” “Why a Computer Only Lasts Three Years,” “Everyone's Favorite Thing and Unfavorite Thing Are Different” and “Wearing a Suit All the Time Is a Good Way to Quit Smoking.” This is very much a book on how to live in cities, as Glouberman repeated half- facetiously during the question-and-answer session of their performance as part of the recent final Scream in High Park in Toronto, telling the audience that if you live in the country, this book will be of no help at all.

Part of the appeal of the book is in the straightforward and common sense approach to his discussions and digressions, as he speaks on a variety of subjects, some of which might even just shake the reader out of a couple of long-held beliefs, if you're not careful. Whatever the book ends up being called is probably irrelevant, and perhaps even good for those people who worry far too much about such. Instead, simply focus on the fact that The Chairs Are Where The People Go is whip-smart, damned entertaining and interesting, and, to paraphrase narrator Bill Cosby at the end of every episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985), if you're not careful, you just might learn something, before you're through.

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