“D,” an Alphabetical Prose Experiment by Sheila Heti


Dad just now told me that my twenties were for experimentation and playing around, but now that I’m thirty, I should settle down and focus on my work; that this is the time to see what I can achieve. Dad read an earlier draft and had some suggestions about how to make it more real, but I don’t think I want it to be too real. Dad said that none of the younger doctors had any authority, and that what he wanted was for somebody to tell him what to do, to just lay it out exactly. Dad said this morning that my work was the most important thing since my relationships seem to come and go. Dad says not to analyze things so much, but what should I do with all my bad feelings and fears? Dad told me that his plan, if they were going to keep him past Tuesday, would be to put on his clothes, leave the hospital, get a cab, have the cab drop him off at the base of the bridge on Bathurst, and throw himself off. Dad was perhaps a little manic, the doctors having started him on steroids again. Dad was upset today when the nurse said that what he needed was calories. Dad went home from the hospital today. Dad’s wrists were so skinny, thin and weak, and he said it was because the platelets were gone from all his operations and illness. Dante’s Inferno. Dating is terrible. Daydreaming like this, I fell off my bike on Shaw, missing a dip in the road and losing control of the bike, and smashed up my knee. Deep in the field a boy and girl came up and sat with us. DFW died. Did I betray him? Did I? Did not get much writing done, obviously. Didn’t sleep at all last night, and feel unable to sleep right now. Difficult evening last night. Difficult men. Disappointed a bit, but fine. Discipline like discipleship. Discretion is part of it. Do away with the idea, the romantic idea, of essence. Do I hold myself back from fear of surpassing him? Do I want to be his primary partner? Do I want to be in a sexless relationship? Do I want to grow old with this man? Do not introspect. Do nothing but accept who you are. Do that instead of escaping into fantasies of lives with other men, men who I have already made the conscious choice of rejecting. Do we have to suffer until the end of history? Does he die, drowning, trying to kiss himself? Does he stare forever at his image? Does it create distance between you and the man that you’re with? Does it deserve forgiveness? Does it get you closer to any particular man? Does it get you closer to men in general? Does it get you closer to wisdom? Does it get you closer to your truest values? Does it have a positive effect? Does it throw a wrench in the wheel? Does one live in expectation of roses and a country home? Does that lead to poverty, to trials, to love? Does the city make me this way, or age, or finishing a book that I think is no good? Does the imagination work that fast? Pavel asked. Don’t affect this cool air, this worldly air. Don’t anticipate the worst, always fearing it. Don’t ask the question why, why are you writing this? Don’t ask too much of yourself on this trip, just try to get some work done, see a few paintings, and find a hotel with as little fuss and bother as possible. Don’t be afraid of becoming more conscious and more aware—you can’t stay unconscious, you must use as much of your brain as possible; besides, if there isn’t an unconscious, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not thinking. Don’t be afraid of not having money come. Don’t be covetous. Don’t be fatalistic. Don’t be frivolous. Don’t be miserable. Don’t be scared. Don’t be so impressed with yourself, but do the good work. Don’t become like the pathologists, thinking you’ve seen the insides of people, and that the outside’s prettier. Don’t check your email in the mornings or do any other work in the morning apart from typewriter work. Don’t commit to anything. Don’t confess or complain. Don’t contribute to any project unless you’re genuinely excited about it. Don’t delude yourself. Don’t demand, but take care of yourself, see your friends, make plans, go out. Don’t do blurbs next year if you can help it. Don’t do readings. Don’t do so many interviews, don’t take on any new assignments, just figure out money and plan financially for the next few years. Don’t end up in Paris, end up somewhere cheap. Don’t evoke by magic, but do the thinking, do the work. Don’t expect big things from yourself in the near term. Don’t feel like talking to Fiona tonight. Don’t feel obliged to do anything. Don’t feel pressure from people who work at the magazines. Don’t forget how hard all this is, how hard it is for him, how hard it is for everyone. Don’t forget that although you aren’t telling a story, you must still do what stories do, which is lead the reader through an experience. Don’t forget that the book will exist in the future. Don’t forget to write, even if it’s going nowhere. Don’t forget to write, even though it will never be published. Don’t forget—they project onto you their unfulfilled needs. Don’t get into relationships with men you want to fuck—just fuck them. Don’t get pulled into the shallowness of it all. Don’t hold on to the past. Don’t let your ego and ambition make you desire power over other people, but do whatever you can to avoid that. Don’t let your life become a fiction. Don’t make up stories. Don’t make yourself a god. Don’t make yourself into a demon. Don’t pull the reader along. Don’t read just to strengthen your own point of view. Don’t remain ignorant just to preserve the simplicity of your own point of view. Don’t see too many people in New York. Don’t spend so much money. Don’t spend so much time on Twitter or Facebook or in correspondence or getting involved in other people’s art projects. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t take yourself so seriously; don’t think about yourself at all. Don’t teach or do residencies. Don’t think about celibacy. Don’t think about dating or alternate ways you can make money. Don’t think about sleeping with Lars, it’s only making you anxious. Don’t think about the structure in terms of morality, good or evil, what should or shouldn’t be. Don’t think in terms of great art or great artist; think in terms of the work. Don’t think of yourself as a woman while writing it—don’t think of yourself at all, don’t come back to your own experiences; it’s okay if it contradicts your experience of life. Don’t train yourself to be cold, but it’s not so bad to have some control over yourself. Don’t underestimate what people see; they see hearts, it’s clear to everyone. Don’t want to be killed, but if I am, it’s no great tragedy, and there’s no dignity in worrying about it. Don’t waste your energies on doubt over everything. Don’t worry about L.A. Don’t worry about New York. Don’t worry about whether Lars will show anyone the naked pictures you sent him, you can’t do anything about it now. Done, done, done. Dream of me yelling at my mother, nothing I did was ever good enough for you! Dresden. Drinking a lot. Drinking and smoking, to some extent, help.

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Excerpted from Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Heti. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2024 by Sheila Heti. All rights reserved.



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