Sleepover

Episode five: Sheila vs. the Internet

Author Sheila Heti is a shining literary light. But it seems the more popular she is, the more detractors there are. She doesn’t want to be paralyzed by online comments, but she refuses to ignore valid criticisms. Can she find a balance between the two?
Author Sheila Heti is a shining literary light. But it seems the more popular she is, the more detractors there are. She doesn’t want to be paralyzed by online comments, but she refuses to ignore valid criticisms. Can she find a balance between the two? 2:05
Listen to the full episode27:26

Author Sheila Heti is a shining literary light. The daughter of Hungarian Jews  — her mom is a pathologist and her dad is an electrical engineer — Sheila was surrounded by people who value intellect, curiosity and logical thinking.  

Sheila speaks with the unpredictable rhythm of an improvisational musician. Her voice — high, tender and amused — carries an avalanche of words that weave together, building complex ideas and theories. Clearly, Sheila has a powerful connection to her subconscious, and that's why I'm convinced she will make a great guest at our second sleepover. Her forever humming brain will take the conversation in surprising directions.

Success came early for Sheila, gaining international attention for her fiction and journalistic writing. Throughout her career she has witnessed the advent of the Internet and has seen the transformation of the written word into something that can be shared to millions with the click of a button. And it is the Internet — symbolized by her laptop — that is at the root of a problem Sheila shares with us.

Day turns to night and we get comfortable in hotel room 3-168. I change into my muumuu, Sheila and Jon wear their pajamas, and Josis reclines in his sweatsuit. Sheila shares her dilemma, she can't help but be aware of her perceived whiteness and privilege at this moment in time. She sees numerous conversations and cultural critiques about the demand for inclusion taking place online. Sheila is aware of her cultural advantages and does not want to fall on the wrong side of history, but she also wishes for her writing to be received beyond reductive limitations.

It seems the more popular she is, the more detractors there are, and online insults can come fast and furious. She does not want to be paralyzed by what others say, and more importantly she does not want her writing to be affected by a kind of self-censorship that would alter it. Sheila Heti has written extensively about life's confusion, most notably in her landmark book,How Should a Person Be? and it's evident at our sleepover that many of her questions remain unanswered. I'm hoping that strangers Dr. Jon Fiddler, Josis Thomas, and I can help point her in the right direction.

Sook-Yin Lee

PHOTOS FROM THE EPISODE

Sheila Heti is a shining literary light who doesn't want her writing to be affected by what others say. (Adam Litovitz)
After swimming fuel means Cheetos, chips & salsa. (Adam Litovitz)
Finally the pizza arrives! (Adam Litovitz)
Sheila and Sook-Yin are ready to dig in. (Adam Litovitz)
Come on boys, before all the pizza is gone. (Adam Litovitz)
Okay, everyone is fed and ready for another round of deep talks. (Adam Litovitz)
We've already covered Jon. (Adam Litovitz)
Let's move on to Sheila. (Adam Litovitz)
So Sheila, how does your laptop represent your problem? (Adam Litovitz)
What do you think Josis? (Adam Litovitz)
How about you Jon, any words of wisdom? (Adam Litovitz)
We've been sitting way too long. Maybe moving will give us new perspective. (Adam Litovitz)
Josis has a hidden talent revealed, ballroom dancing! Sheila it is time for a crash course. (Adam Litovitz)
And spin... (Adam Litovitz)
Now it's your turn to learn Jon. (Adam Litovitz)
And spin... (Adam Litovitz)
All that dancing has left Josis tired. (Adam Litovitz)
Okay, enough dancing, we still have a lot to cover. (Adam Litovitz)