Misha & Sheila’s Chairs book

Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti

In the last few months, I’ve learned a surprising amount about Misha Glouberman. For starters, he lives in Toronto, is a Harvard alumnus, and for the last several years has been hosting a lecture series (The Trampoline Hall Lectures) that has attracted international attention. He also teaches Charades classes. His life as a creative-type-at-large sounds impossibly glamorous, yet, what I love most about his and Sheila Heti’s new book, The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City, is that it totally succeeds in humanizing him.

A couple months ago, I attended a book event at Town Hall to hear Misha and Sheila discuss Chairs. (Sheila is well-known in her own right for her works of fiction, nonfiction, interviews for The Believer, and co-founding Trampoline Hall.) As they described the process of writing the book–each morning they’d meet and Sheila would transcribe what Misha said–their self-deprecating charm was hard to resist.

The result of these sessions is a book of 72 essays, some less than a page long, on what Misha knows best. For the most part, the stories and insights sound both personal and intellectual–like really interesting dinner conversation. While they contain too much detail and logic to be folk wisdom,  they’re too brief to even imagine preaching. Roughly a third are about games, Charades, and improv (which I have little to no interest in). But many of the essays are about human nature, urban design, sensitivities, and struggle. Here are some of my favorite passages from Chairs:

Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti in 2002

A picture of the authors in 2002.

On Sunday markets:

“Neighborhoods that are really good, I think, are places that feel like people live there. When you throw a huge, noisy street party every Sunday, it really creates the impression that people don’t live there, because who in the world would choose to have this outside their window? Who would think that what their own neighborhood needs is to have a drum circle and an amplified performance poet outside their own home every single Sunday all summer? So a festival like that creates the message that the neighborhood belongs to the people who come there as an entertainment destination, not to the people who live there.”

On “Rock ‘n’ Roll” lifestyles:

“I used to drink a lot and do drugs the normal amount, because it made things more fun. In the end, I decided that if these things lead you into genuinely fun, interesting places, that’s okay, but if they lead you to places that wouldn’t be fun if you weren’t drunk, it’s a little bit depressing … When you’re older, drugs and alcohol just give you greater tolerance for a boring time.”

Self-help books: Worth it

“I’m a real believer in certain kind of self-help books. A lot of them, of course, are really, really terrible–like anything–but when they’re good I think they’re great. It’s easy to underestimate the fact that other people have had similar problems to yours and that you can learn from their experiences–and learn from people who’ve spent lots of time thinking about certain problems. A well-written self-help book can stop you from going down all kinds of blind alleys and trying all sorts of solutions that happen not to work.”

Why he doesn’t buy into Casablanca:

“The idea that love is something magical, almost supernatural, in your heart, that has nothing to do with the day-to-day encounters with a real person–that understanding of love has probably created more unhappiness and ruined more marriages than just about anything.

“Love is what happens between people living their lives together, becoming close through contact and actual partnership, and it’s what survives through difficulties and imperfections. An idealized, imagined, faraway person in your heart–that’s not love. That’s a daydream. People often mistake that daydream for love, so either they’re disappointed when love doesn’t measure up to that daydream, or they try to protect that daydream from being sullied by real life.”