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 encountering 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 about everything he knows.
He agreed to collaborate on this project with me, but only if I promised not to quit in the middle as I always do with everything.
We spent a few days coming up with a list of things he thinks about, and those topics became the chapters of this book. Over the next several months, we met a few times a week at my apartment, usually at around ten in the morning. We drank coffee and worked our way down the list. Misha sat across from me at my desk. As he talked, I typed.
Misha speaks in fully formed paragraphs, I was surprised to discover, and the words here are pretty much as he said them. Very infrequently, as he spoke, I would ask a question. I chose the chapters I wanted to include and put them in some kind of order.
As you read the book, Misha may come off as this very opinionated person—but in life he’s quite the opposite. He’s not the sort of person who goes around giving his take on things. At parties, he can often be found explaining to one person what some other person meant. At Trampoline Hall, Misha leads a Q&A after each lecture, and he is really good at revealing the essence of what each person is trying to communicate. He’s usually very reserved and cautious in his opinions, always seeing the other person’s side.
Sometimes when he and I spend time together, a more opinionated side of Misha comes out. When we were doing this book, often he would say something, then say to me, “Don’t put that in,” and then I would say, “But that’s the best part,” and I would.
We had a really nice time.
—Sheila Heti, Toronto