Canada | 2009
Sheila Heti was born in Toronto. She studied playwriting at the National Theatre School in Montreal, and philosophy and art history at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the story collection The Middle Stories and the novel Ticknor. Her writing has appeared in various places—The Believer, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Brick. In 2006, she received a citation from the City of Toronto, awarded to 12 “cultural mavericks who, through artistic promise, achievement or vision, have enriched the cultural life of this city now and for future generations.”
I wrote one good scene – the most important scene of the book – at Santa Maddalena. I wrote all through the night, then finally slept peacefully in the morning.
Up until that night, I had not been writing. For weeks, I had been eating. I had been preparing coffee and drinking coffee. I had been sleeping fitfully at strange hours, or not sleeping at all. I walked to town. I tried out different rooms in the villa, bringing my computer with me, then just staring out over the fields. I read a Chekhov story. I smoked by the large fireplace at night, the one in the kitchen, blowing the smoke up the chimney, hoping that by morning the smell would be gone. I felt restless.
Perhaps the setting was too beautiful. Perhaps the food was too delicious. I had never lived anywhere so beautiful, or eaten food so deliciously prepared. I had never written in an atmosphere of comfort and luxury, and perhaps I could not.
There was nothing to distract me. I had too much time. I needed no money. There were no friends to see. I was deteriorating.
I tried to exercise, and ran through the fields, but I only ran through the fields that once. I found a trampoline in someone’s backyard, and jumped up and down on it until I twisted my ankle, then I hobbled back to Beatrice’s villa. I watched movies on my computer. I went to the outlet mall with Brigida, and I looked at all the Prada heels and all the Cavalli dresses, but returned to the villa with nothing. I took my computer into the room with the best reception, and called my friends back home over Skype, and I cried, then I went back into my room and tried to sleep, but could not.
It’s okay, I told myself, not to write anything here. It’s okay to just enjoy the food, the coffee, and the beautiful sun. It’s okay not to sleep – just to drink red wine at noon and again, at dinner, in the evening. I resolved myself to it.
Then a few days before going home – who knows why? – it happened the way it sometimes does, and I wrote all through the night till morning. I sat in my bed with my computer before me, and trembled with the thrill of it. I’ve finished my book! I thought. I am a genius!
But I wasn’t finished my book, and by the time I called my friends back home to tell them I am a genius! I was no longer believed it myself. But I had written some good scenes – scenes that would eventually make it into the book. And I no longer felt bad about having eaten and drunk for a month without working, or about having taken long walks through the fields in the sun. For three days I basked in that night of having worked, then I went home.