The Company You Keep

A friend of mine wrote a song with that title a long time ago, & the band White Rabbits has a similarly titled song too. I think it’s still the motto of some insurance company.

A long time ago a friend gave me a piece of advice: only hang out with people you admire. It’s a piece I’ve returned to again and again over time even though I’ve generally had an uncanny ability to choose friends well. Only in the past few years have I jmade a couple of very bad choices. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but in retrospect, here’s what I failed to do: I failed to look carefully at what people do NOT when they are sad or suffering or lonely, but how they behave when they are on top of their game. You can really only tell the content of someone’s character when they are sitting pretty: when they have enough money, or power, or luck, when things are going well for them. It’s then that you see what a person is made of: whether they become cruel, petty tyrants, or cliquish and gossipy and judgmental.

The thing is, when people suffer or feel lonely, they are often more sympathetic, not less, and they will be kind because they need kindness returned, but when they have everything, that’s when you know who they truly are. I have seen too many people become arrogant, obnoxious assholes when, at long last, they think they’ve got something other people envy, whether it’s money or popularity or power or fame. Over and over again, I’ve seen it. Sadly, this observation has made me more cynical about human nature, not less, but it also helps me clarify what kind of people I want to hang out with, who is truly generous and living honestly, the ones who only use whatever good fortune they have to create abundance in others’ lives as well.

So check that graphic I posted again yesterday. If people who are your friends fit a lot more of the characteristics of the right side of that graphic, your bar is set way too fucking low. Aspire to generosity, abundance, and service (and I don’t mean that in the kinky way, although that’s fine too, if that’s what floats your boat). It brings so much more meaning, and the world only gets bigger and brighter and more full of love.

One more thing: sometimes you’re hard pressed to find even one person you admire that you can hang out with. Sometimes, none. But whatever you do, don’t lower your bar to assuage your loneliness. That’ll kick your ass in the long run; it did mine. If it’s necessary, only hang out in books with people you admire; read biographies of people who have quietly done amazing things, or have even suffered notoriety with grace. Believe me, there are plenty of people out there to admire, but they’re often too busy doing amazing things to make themselves look admirable.

And with that: onward and upward in 2013. Here’s hoping you all have a wildly transcendent year.

End of Year Links

As a follow-up to my piece about warding off nihilism with gratitude, I’ve found this image, by Scott Sonnon. If you can’t see it well enough here, try this link for a bigger version.

Which in turn goes well with my piece about getting past irony, and in turn with this difficult piece called “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” by David Wong. The writing is not great, but get past the first half’s neo-con aggressivity and get to his over-arching point: do shit, don’t talk about it or spend your time criticizing what others are doing, and remember that you are valued for what you do, not what you think about doing, and not, in some abstract way, about who you “are”. His Top 3 are especially worth reading: (3) you hate yourself because you don’t do anything, and (2) what you are inside only matters because of what it makes you do, and of course (1) everything inside you will fight improvement.

#2 especially. Being a good person doesn’t count for shit unless you engage it and can actually do things that people need done. There’s a lot of bad stuff out in the world, from the mundane and catty to the outright cynical and oppressive.

I have a lot more to write about; the past few years have been an almost crippling struggle for me, but I feel – finally! – like I’m coming out the other side, in some ways more deeply cynical but also absolutely re-committed to the work I want to do. Or, what Iggy Pop said yesterday here on my blog: I have less patience, and yet everything good and beautiful has 80 million times as much meaning.

Tomorrow I’m going to write a little bit about the company you keep. And maybe about the five cynical things I’ve learned the hard way which are invaluable lessons.

It is going to be a beautiful thing to let 2012 fade into history, and I didn’t lose my house or my stuff to Sandy, and I didn’t know those beautiful teachers and children who were massacred. But I do know that the world is getting harder – gun sales went up 300% after the Newtown massacre, not down – and that we are all probably going to need to be made of sterner stuff.



It’s the end of the year, and as much as I would like to write back to every email I get from readers, I never do. If I did I would never get my own work done. BUT: I do get them, and I do read them, and I do love them. I wish, too, that I had answers for people: how to accept an emerging need to transition (in yourself or your loved one), how to be fair to a wife or husband who can’t accept that transition, how to tell children or other relatives; how to deal with employment and coming out to people and accepting whatever loss might come.

I don’t have those answers. I do know that transition is one of the most subtle and difficult things I have ever lived through. A good transition – which ours was – doesn’t have gigantic amounts of drama. Everything legal and medical has gone relatively smoothly. But everything changes; there is nothing in our lives that wasn’t effected by her transition.

So in a sense, that’s my advice to all of you who email: nothing will ever be the same, and you will be amazed at how entirely consuming and yet utterly boring a transition can be (if it goes well). If it doesn’t? Nothing will ever be the same then, either.

Thank you all for the emails – for telling me the books have been useful to you, or this blog, or some of the other various things I do and have done. It’s nice to feel appreciated. I’m just sorry I can’t pay everyone more personal attention, because so many of you need and deserve it, and there is so little out there for people living through this stuff. But do know that you aren’t alone. We do still run our online community forums, so do come there if you can.


Scalzi on Why He’s a Trans Ally

& This explanation of why he supports trans people, from one of my wife’s favorite writers, John Scalzi, which is really common sense and compassion:

People who are trans seem to me to have a particularly hard journey: The eventual recognition of the disconnect between the gender their bodies have and the gender they sense themselves as being, the years of dealing with that disconnect, the hard choice to rebuild their lives and all the repercussions of that choice, and having to do all of that with much of the rest of the world looking on and judging. That’s a hell of a road to walk.


December Demons

Sometimes hurting is a reminder that you can still feel — which is what it’s all about. To everyone who is angry, lonely, estranged from love, or disappointed – take heart from your heart hurting: you’re still alive to try again. Love to all of you who hurt today, or who have hurt this month; the holidays are a difficult reminder of what we want & don’t yet have, or used to have & don’t have anymore.

Mostly, though, I wanted to thank all of you who wanted a call this December, and who reached out via The December Project; the honest truth is that it did my heart more good to be an ear to others than it probably was for all of you to hear our voices.

& Yes, we’re still doing it, until this month and its demons are gone with the calendar page.

Chan Lowe Cartoon

“Never has the dedication of the people who practice the teaching profession been spotlighted in the way it has over the past few days.We were shown, in dramatic terms, to what lengths teachers are willing to go to fulfill the crucial mandate they have been given: the education and welfare of the most precious members of our society. Yet they are so often treated with disdain.” – Chan Lowe

Be sure to read the blog post that goes with this amazing image.