Dear Dust

I am a long time TNB contributor, and I just wanted to take a second to sort of anonymously let you know how fucking hard your column rocks. How do you grind these out every week? Funny, erudite, and wise. I am consistently amazed that your latest is almost always the most interesting thing on the board. But, enough blowing smoke up your ass. The reason I’m writing is to say that I’m sorry for the tepid response comment-wise. Around here, plenty of lame “this happened to me today, isn’t the world crazy?” things about riding the bus get 150 comments, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything! Just wanted to make sure you knew that. To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of TNB lately myself. I don’t participate much any more because the huge volume of material is overwhelming. Back in the day, you posted things and they hung around for consideration. Now, you put something up and it’s off the board almost immediately. And even though there’s good writing, there’s a lot more that is nothing but glorified blogs. And the bloggers zip around writing tepid things on each other’s stuff in the hopes that they’ll get tepid comments back to boost their totals. It’s like some kid’s game that has nothing to do with quality of writing, even though everyone on the site bemoans the state of publishing and how good books don’t get the attention they deserve. Actually, I think deep down TNB is a pretty good reflection of the buying public. Everyone talks a good game, but they still want to read Jodi Picoult in the end. It kind of makes me sick in a way. Or maybe I should say just sad.

I’m sorry for the mass mailing. I’m a terrible correspondent, as I’ve explained in greater or lesser tones of contrition for most of my life. My parents always tried to encourage me to write thank you cards when I was a child, and I’d scribble some half-baked gratitude, something about how fabulous my new old lady briefs monogrammed with the days of the week were, and then forget to mail it. Or not bother to stamp it, which is even more pathetic, somehow. It’s like the hard part was done and I got hung up on the minutiae. A stroke of contrariness? I don’t know. Sue me.

I never call anyone because I’ve nurtured a hate-hate relationship with the phone my entire life; imagine the curse of the ubiquitous cell phone for someone like me? It’s possible that I was the only teenager in the universe who avoided the phone–actually screened my calls. Hated the phone as a teenager; skillfully navigate it now by ignoring its ubiquity.

Anyway, back to the reason for this letter. Since Facebook has made the sphere of private versus the public such a complicated place, and the internet makes it possible to find anyone anywhere unless you’ve doctored yourself a little alternate identity and travel documents, I thought that it might be time to address my own personal privacy settings. Imagine, if you will, a shield of preferences circling me like a force field of ultimate power.

You girls I knew in Junior High School make me a little nervous, to be perfectly honest. I wasn’t sure how to be your friends back then; I was convinced that well-put-together girls in pressed Levi’s and Polo shirts scorned the very earth I walked on. Sure, I won “Class Clown” two years running–but I remain convinced that it was because I was the spastic heartbroken girl who didn’t know how to be well-put-together so was funny instead. I look sad in both my yearbook pictures when I was photographed with my male clown counterparts, two Frowny Clown Portraits adorning the Thrift Stores of History.

So, junior high school girlfriends, you get a free pass but only as long as you don’t remind me that I’m still that spastic poorly manicured goombah who can’t be bothered to find clothes which fit. Pointing and laughing are strictly forbidden. Otherwise, I’ll drag you off into the purgatory of the HIDE button.

Junior High Boys on the other hand are welcome. You guys were awesome in your dorky ways; sure, you didn’t want to date me because I didn’t have boobs until, well, ever, but you were a fun crew who laughed at my jokes. And there wasn’t a mean bone in your body–not that you shared with me anyway–and I hear many of you are still friends after all these years! That’s reassuring, somehow. You guys are alright.

Late adolescence and early adulthood harbors a strange melange of friends. There are many of you who I miss, even though I don’t write and I never call. Be assured that you’re still on my list of Friends and not Acquaintances. Yeah, it’s true. I forget that we haven’t talked in almost twenty years. I assume, completely irrationally, that we’ll hook up for coffee soon and talk just like we did in the past. I was actually surprised when one of you wrote me to say that we hadn’t seen each other in forever and wow, things have changed. Have they really? I can’t tell from inside my force field. I thought things were exactly the same as they always were, at least between us. Shows you how subjective it is here behind my wall of impenetrability.

I haven’t avoided many of you–note the “lousy correspondent” disclaimer–but there are some of you I have. How can you tell from my silence, since my silence is all-encompassing, whether we’re still friends or whether I’ve dodged you like a virulent strain of flesh-eating streptococcus? That is a perfectly reasonable question. Check the history files. Did you A) betray my trust B) play Machiavellian mind games with me, making me question my very sanity or C) both? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, put yourself in the “Avoided Like Plague” pile. There aren’t many of you, but you’re out there.

The Ex-Boyfriend privacy settings are more complicated. They also run to the “Sure, look me up sometime,” to the “Jesus, seriously, dude. If you were the last man on earth I’d commit Seppuku.” Again, if you’re unsure of where you are on the spectrum, review the history. Were we A) relatively unharmed by our dalliances? B) Total goofballs but not really impacted by anything resembling “commitment” or “longevity?”  or C) Cheerfully involved until we kind of just weren’t any more and then stumbled into the next thing? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, the force field will welcome you through.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself keeping company with this series of identifying characteristics, you can place yourself in the “Last Man = Seppuku” pile. Were you A) Formed in Lucifer’s loins? B) A sociopath? C) Abusive, ranging from mental anguish to a broken collarbone? You guys not only get the booby prize but the award for Most Toxic Relationships. I have avoided Facebook in no small measure because of you gentlemen, and I hope you can tell from my specific tone of silence (and my force field) that I have a mile-thick wall around me that reads “FOOL ME ONCE.” Also, restraining orders and very large friends.

But the rest of you–sure. Look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like going to the zoo to stare at the animals. Interesting for a minute until you realize that the animals are just biding their time until they can turn on their master….wait. No, that’s a lousy analogy.

Let me start again:

Sure, look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like reading the gossip pages and relishing the dirt you pick up about familiar strangers…

Damn. That’s not right either.

Okay. I’m just trying to say that I love many of you even though we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Except for those of you I don’t love. And I wish you could tell the difference, but because of my self-imposed silence, I guess you can’t tell who’s who. So maybe this new-fangled Force Field of Ultimate Power will make it easier for everyone to sort out who goes in what column.

Thanks, and I’d say “We’ll talk soon,” except we both know that’s not true. But I love you.*

Cheers, Quenby


*Unless I don’t, of course.

Ever since I’ve been allowed to hurl my musings at TNB, expanding my readership beyond my usual four, now that I have the potential for an audience of at least five, my brain has been taking it out on me.

I am not in my comfort zone. I have been skillfully and assiduously avoiding a public face on the internet since, oh, forever. I’ve written online extensively, but my name has not been attached. I have kept the innocent and the guilty alike hidden in my dedication to anonymity. I’m comfortable with that.

Perhaps it’s my name. If I didn’t have such a whacked-out name, I wouldn’t think about it so much. Search for “Angela Smith” on the intarwebs, you potentially face a long slog finding the “Angela” you’re interested in. But “Quenby Moone?” Yeah. There’s only one of those.

Megan DiLullo and I were discussing my future here on TNB, and she told me I should get on Facebook. It was a good way for people to contact me, make a face for myself. Really? Why in God’s name would I want to do that? So my psychotic ex-boyfriend can find me and ask me how my kid is?

But Megan is nothing if not clever, so I entertained that she might have a point. I’ve been pretty well-insulated until now, but if I had any hope of having a readership beyond my father, who has a genetic investment in my successes and failures, and my other three (possibly paid) devotees to my written brain queefs, I would probably have to go on Facebook and mingle.

I summoned no small part of bravery and signed up for an account. And I totally punked out, since I went by my white trash handle, Tawny Bouté. I poked Megan to show that I had the guts to be there, and then I poked my husband. I had two Facebook friends.

Not bad, really.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how someone I haven’t spoken to in 22 years found me on there, buried under my white trash nom de plume, but there it was: a friend request from someone I hardly remember. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to have him as my friend, I just didn’t know why he wanted to be mine. I panicked. I worried about it. I thought about “friending” him (a gerund which drives me nuts), and realized that it was the first step down a long road of friends I barely know all friending each other. It’s so weird, and nosey, and slightly voyeuristic.

But I know that it’s great, too. I know that people have discovered each other and re-kindled long dormant relationships to the benefit of all parties. And why am I so vain as to believe anyone would even care about finding me again? What makes me so special? Who, exactly, do I think I am? Miley Fucking Cyrus?

Then the self-flagellation set in.

So what if this was it? What if I had my two friends and died tomorrow, the pathetic woman with only her husband and her fellow TNB’er there to witness I was ever on Facebook at all? “I’d better go get some more friends,” I thought.

I found one hidden under a pseudonym and gave him a webby shout. Now I had three.

As a percentage, it was a marked improvement.

But what if one of my real-world friends discovered that I wasn’t their Facebook friend? Maybe they wouldn’t realize that I only had three Facebook friends, and would think I was actively shunning them. Would they de-friend me in real life? Maybe I should go and find everyone I ever knew and make them my friend. But what if they don’t want me as their friend? What if I discover I’m an undesirable on Facebook? What if I am actually a member of the lowest rung of the Facebook caste system: The Untouchable?

I couldn’t believe this was the inner monologue of someone who turned forty this year. Tawny deleted her account five days after she created it.

But the fact remains: Quenby Moone has never put a name upon her writing, and now she’s been graciously accepted into the cabal of “The Nervous Breakdown.” And my personal masochism is no longer about Facebook, but about what to publish here. “I’ll publish one about my boobs,” I’ll think. “Boobs are always a popular subject.” But then I’ll realize someone recently published one about her boobs, and it was probably ten times funnier than the one about my boobs.

“I’ll mix it up; I’ll send the one about the chickens.” But maybe I’m the only person who thinks a quixotic relationship with barnyard fowl is funny. “Maybe the one about my nervous breakdown? That would at least be name-appropriate. But maybe cliché. Maybe too cute and affected: ‘See what I did there? Huh? I wrote about a nervous breakdown on a site called “The Nervous Breakdown?” Clever, huh?'”

On and on it goes. So here we are. At the end of a piece about neither boobs nor chickens nor nervous breakdowns, but about my inability to decide what to publish on “The Nervous Breakdown.”

Think of it as an exercise in post-post-modernism.