Interpersonal Intelligence

All con men ultimately con themselves—it's an occupational hazard, so to speak, of the conning business.

“There's No Such Thing as a No-Cost Delay” (2011)

So attractive was EX (or in time my memory of her) that I forgot about my rule again dating women beholden to a third party who is never seen. The truth that should never be forgotten is that every handler, much like a book agent, say, has his or her interests, which can include the need to keep a customer (for the book agent, a publisher or publisher's editor) even at the cost of jeopardizing the client's well-being. Cross someone handled and you're already outnumbered—two against one, which is disadvantageous. The truth, not to be forgotten, is that any relationship involving a hidden third person is ipso facto unstable, if not untrustworthy.

“Beware of Handlers' Chumps” (2010)

Hearing a colleague boast of “ex-friends” as a putative measure of his intellectual integrity, I thought how few I had, notwithstanding how provocative my work as both a writer and an artist has been. Those who came immediately to mind were lovers whom I disappointed, some of them still angry with me, no doubt justifiably. Next came colleagues self-consciously on the way up (and perhaps insecure about their status as well), who thought it opportune to dump previous acquaintances less upwardly mobile, much as they dumped old clothes. Next came editors no longer publishing me—people for whom the rituals of friendship were a prerequisite for getting better work out of me, sometimes for a lower price (if not nothing). Were there a contest for living writers having the most ex-friends, I suspect the winners would be abusive magazine editors long tenured at, say, American Scholar, Commentary, Harper's, and National Review. The book editor, Jason Epstein, might top them all.

All these people I would distinguish from former friends, as I shall call them--people who have moved away from NYC--and from Enemies, which I have indeed made, sometimes inadvertently, especially if they envied self-made success, more often intentionally, nearly always in print (rarely personally), recalling advice that the composer Milton Babbitt proffered me forty years ago: “When I was a young man, I had the good fortune of making all the right enemies.” When I recently asked Babbitt whom he had in mind when he told me this, he replied it was the composer Randall Thompson (not Virgil T.), less than a generation older, who, because he had the composition chair at Harvard, was more prominent seventy years ago than now. More than one colleague has envied me for making many of the Right Enemies. Not everyone can be so shrewdly selective.

A sometime lover who never taught, though she took her doctorate decades ago, once told me that had I become an academic I would have had many more ex-friends, not just among those regarding themselves as on the way up, as the disintegration of tenuous alliances appears to be a disease afflicting academic turfs. When some of my higher-flying ex-friends become more secure or decline, how should I respond if they want to befriend me again? Would they mind my disrespect?

Toward Secession (2008)

Every handler has his or her financial interests, which can include the need to keep a customer, even at the cost of jeopardizing the client's well-being. Cross someone firmly handled, and you're already outnumbered—two against one, which is disadvantageous. The warning, not to be forgotten, is that any relationship involving a hidden third person is ipso facto unstable, if not untrustworthy.

“Beware of Handlers' Chumps” (2010)