By Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 5, 2011, 0865479453

I first heard about Misha Glouberman a few weeks ago when I listend to YANSS 143 - How to Talk to People About Things. It’s really interesting, and got me thinking about learning about negotiation so I picked up his only book, which he dictated to his friend and author, Sheila Heti, who is also a co-founder of Trampoline Hall, a unique monthly lecture series in Toronto.

Misha Glouberman was a database programmer and then started doing little art/class projects that eventually consumed his life. This book covers that tale as well as many others. He doesn’t understand how people write books.

Sheil thought it was really important that Misha’s thoughts be documented, because he says such interesting things. I agree. She did a great job. Misha talks in whole paragraphs, which I believe.

The book contains lots of emphasized words. I suspect that’s because it was dictated as well as the fact that Misha is a performance artist.

There are short (a few paragraphs) and long (tens of pages) essays. I like the format. It keeps you think and guessing. Sometimes an essay is a single profound idea, and other times its about some life episode that involves a lot of context.

One theme through the book is how Misha deals with where he lives in Toronto. It’s in the city in a neighborhood that’s being gentrified with bars where the hipsters go. He has some conflicted thoughts about it, which made me think about things. Like, when you rich young people want pedestrian zones, it’s because they can afford it. Poor people can’t live in the city so have to commute to work by car. Rich people’s ideas about a city differ from what a city is about.

There’s a lot of emphasis on improv and games. I like that. Such things make me uncomfortable. Misha is not comfortable with it, which is why he does it. I think he was too comfortable being a poor programmer, now he’s a (relatively) rich artist. There are thoughts about this, too.

I enjoyed this book very much. I read it quickly for me, in a week. Normally it can take me a month to read a book this long.

[k55] Misha Glouberman is my very good friend.

[k69] Misha speaks in fully formed paragraphs, I was surprised to discover, and the words here are pretty much as he said them.

[k71] As you read the book, Misha may come off as this very opinionated person–but in life he’s quite the opposite.

[k84] And the subway’s the one place where they can have some quiet time, get some reading done, not have to smile, not have to make eye contact.

[k87] It would be overwhelming if you had to perceive every single person on a crowded subway car in the fullness of their humanity.

[k140] A human who doesn’t exist in a culture isn’t somehow more true. In fact, I think a human who doesn’t exist in a culture–that’s not what a human is.

[k173] This seems obvious, but a lot of the time, people will act out a charade in a way which would make perfect sense if you knew what the title was, but from which the title would be completely impossible to guess if you didn’t know it.

[k179] Some of the tips that apply to charades are the same tips you would apply to any improvisation: Be precise in your gestures. Be wholehearted. Don’t forget to bring emotional content to what you do.

[k235] It’s a real service to have a leader, most of the time. Leaders do things that other people don’t want to do, and which leaders do want to do. They make the decisions. They’re accountable for those decisions. They take the blame when things go wrong. They do a lot more of the work.

[k250] I’ve put together a lot of shows, and if you talk to people after, you can always draw a pretty direct correlation between how much people liked the show and how close they sat to the stage.

[k306] I think that’s what art is: art is communication made in the hope that interesting miscommunications will arise.

[k359] I did research online and I called a bunch of offices at the City. It was kind of amazing how impossible it was to get information.

[k362] It was really discouraging, partly because I’d always assumed that the system ran a bit better than it does.

[k558] I’m really interested in weaving the social and the musical together.

[k570] For a while, I wrote a manners column for a magazine. On one level, manners is really just a tiny little subset of ethics. What having good manners is about is not making yourself more important than other people, which is what most ethics is about.

[k618] The idea that improvisers would eliminate surprise from their own experience goes against my ideas about what’s interesting about improvisation as a practice–and I’m much more interested in improvisation as a practice, or as something to do, than as something for people to watch.

[k625] The idea that the point of art is to be impressive is–to me–incredibly distressing.

[k656] The way people laugh when they’re taking an improv class together–the quality of laughter is so incredible and deep and real and serious. And it always feels to me that, in a way, comedy shows and funny movies are attempts to create a bottled version of that–of what happens with your friends when you’re laughing and joking around.

[k664] So what is true improv?

I guess the biggest thing is that it’s actually about letting yourself be surprised and letting yourself be off-balance.

[k693] It’s a funny paradox that one of the main things I do is teach people to improvise. I teach people, specifically, not to plan ahead, to be okay with not knowing what’s coming next, to hope to be surprised–but in the grand scheme of my life, I’m not very good at any of those things. Compared with most people, I think I worry a fair bit. I’m inclined to need control. I structure my time very carefully in a calendar.

[k732] The best spam filtering software available, as far as I know, is SpamAssassin.

NOTE: Funny for me to read in the middle of a book about art. I’ve done a lot of work with SpamAssassin and spam.

[k866] But the end result is that it makes the university into an ivory tower–I mean, incredibly so.

[k868] In four years of living in that city I pretty much didn’t come to know anybody who wasn’t affiliated with Harvard.

[k873] So even at parties–and I went to parties for four years–the average number of people at a given party who weren’t Harvard students was zero. All of this serves to create a very weird, very contained environment.

NOTE: Just watched Good Will Hunting again. In the bar scene it’s a Harvard bar where Will and his friends go to a Harvard bar to see what it’s like. They were outsiders. It resonated with this passage.

[k923] But in Canada, if you went to Harvard, it’s just sort of a weird novelty, a strange fact about you, like that you’re a member of Mensa or you have an extra thumb.

[k972] This just makes me nuts about people. It’s as though there’s this part of the human brain that allows us to perceive the moral failings and intellectual shortcomings of our enemies so clearly – often even in cases where they don’t even exist – while at the same time being blind to the moral failings and intellectual shortcomings of our friends.

NOTE: There is a part of our brain that separates us from them. In behave

[k1113] But all that boredom sells drinks.

[k1258] Happiness seems to me the most untrivial thing to talk about or think about.

[k1345] There’s a pretty deep pleasure in that unison, in making the same sound over and over, especially when it took some work to get there.

[k1377] I think a lot of what energizes a cocktail party is people’s fear of being seen not talking to anyone.

[k1464] The feeling I have before taking on any interesting project, especially teaching classes, is pretty much a feeling of terror and sickness.

[k1470] I think a lot of art is about creating the illusion of ease, and I think it’s great to enjoy that illusion, but I think it’s great to know that it’s an illusion, and I suspect–in my experience–the process of creating anything involves quite a lot of fear and difficulty, and it also involves covering up quite a lot of that fear and difficulty.

[k1497] So when people say, Why aren’t your games more positive? I think it’s funny, because niceness doesn’t have to happen in a game. You should be nice in real life. You don’t have to play at niceness. You can just do it. Fighting is something to be minimized in real life.

[k1560] It turns out that the best way to get people to communicate and collaborate on something beautiful is for them to start with a fight.

[k1584] It’s hard for people sometimes to understand that things that look successful or generate attention don’t necessarily also generate money.

[k1620] The way I live now is pretty extravagant by the standards of a performance artist, but very frugal by the standards of a computer programmer.

[k1691] When we do Trampoline Hall, we put amateur speakers onstage. People sometimes ask us why we are opposed to experts, but we are not opposed to experts. There’s this terrible idea that the things you do are like this manifesto against everything else.

[k1725] 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 FIXME

[k1846] It seems to me that the most pleasing thing you can find yourself saying in a conversation is something you haven’t said before.

[k1942] The solution to impostor syndrome may not be in getting people to accept that they really are who they say they are, but rather to stop pressuring people into lying so much.

[k2134] I was always smoking.

Sometimes, I would be at a party and find myself reaching for a cigarette to light, only to realize I was already smoking one.

[k2144] In effect what I was doing was making smoking the reward for quitting smoking.

[k2149] I think the thing that really got me was taking a trip to Las Vegas. I really liked it there, but it also seemed so terrible to see the worst things about people all together–how easily people are controlled by money, and how easily people can be made to feel good about themselves when gambling because of something that happened by chance.

[k2152] And you can smoke everywhere.

[k2184] The one thing that the smoking-cessation therapist said to me that stuck with me was that terrible things happen in one’s life. That’s normal.

[k2199] The books often tell you that when you’re quitting smoking, you should give yourself little rewards. My little reward was to let myself wear a suit.

[k2212] Now I’m sort of known for wearing suits.

[k2214] But it’s funny, because you sort of grow into wearing a suit, which is nice. It makes getting older a little easier.