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 honestly can’t decide if I should pull the plug and go Huff Po once and for all.
Anyhow, I’m a fan.
Marsha (nope, that’s not my real name. Not even close.)
We here at Castle Dust appreciate your comments. A little positive reinforcement now and again makes toiling in the advice fields–not to mention explaining the ludicrousness of Rand(s) Ayn and Paul to those not inclined to listen– almost seem worth it at times. So, thank you.
Let me start by saying I am not one to bite the hand that feeds me. Helmsman Listi is known in public to be a genial sort, but you can accept as gospel that it is unwise to cross him. I have spent more than one late night cowering in the corner, with only a satchel full of amyl nitrate to calm my nerves, as The Helsman laid a metaphorical lash across the back of my minor transgressions. Like when I allowed a typo once. Or transposed e.e. Cummings with ZZ Packer. At any rate, all opinions about the efficacy of TNB, at least from this columnist, must always be limned with the understanding that I greatly enjoy and admire the site as a bastion of reason and intellect in the vast morass of horseshit that otherwise comprises the internet.
But, to your point, nothing is perfect. The culture of commentary here does indeed drive more of the content than The Helmsman and his lackeys perhaps originally intended. Or is ultimately healthy. Alternately, the destruction of the previously accepted interface between The (powerful, enigmatic) Author and The (lucky, fawning) Reader is an extremely valuable one. Being able to interact in real time, immediately after a piece is finished and posted greatly diminishes the tiresome superiority of most authorship. You’re only as good as your last pixel, and your ability to defend its reason for occupying a byte. Not a claim B.R. Meyers can make after another humorless takedown of people who like food, or those who are not sufficiently Catholic, appears in the pages of The Atlantic. On the other hand, being able to post in real time, almost immediately after finishing, also appears to be lit-crack for some who may hit the pipe/publish button before getting around to a much-needed second draft. And because of the social nicety accepted and unchallenged on these boards as protocol, it is rare that anyone has to defend their piece in any fashion at all, regardless of its content or quality.
I have been studying the site for months now. I must say that despite one’s level of engagement, the comment culture makes for a fascinating sociological experiment. While my personal opinion is that most comments are expressed in good faith–as a matter of genuine appreciation and informational exchange–there does seem to be a dutiful element as well. If you were to take the totality of comments at face value, just about everything ever posted on this site was really wonderful, with beautiful passages and terrific descriptions and gut-wrenching endings. This sort of uniformity of analysis, in the face of qualitative evidence, fuels a large scale ego-based bartering system. It seems to be a given that receiving a comment necessitates doing the same in return. Even if you do not like the originating piece. Failing to reciprocate often means an unspoken blackballing. Thus, some comments, like the posts they adorn, are tepid and merely serve as a quid pro, but not a quo. If perfunctory attention is currency, and those dimes are handed out without discrimination, genuinely considered and meaningful expressions plummet in value. Or become indistinguishable from their fraudulent neighbors.
Oddly, the exchange of comments seems to be–even more so than writing actual posts–the primary way of building up the TNB persona. Every regular user has one. Super Nice. Really Funny. Consistently Supportive. Clearly Drunk. The Troll. The Needlessly Belligerent. The Lovably Oblivious. Mr. Grandiloquent. Miss Vainglorious. The Haiku Guy. The Fey Girl. The Rocker Dude. Do these personalities sway the reception of the content, rendering the actual writing a sort of meta-experiment? Is this a literary site or a literary yearbook? Does it matter? Do those who only occasionally comment, and are therefore less sharply adumbrated, enjoy a greater flexibility? Do they hold a purer belief in the words, displaying an ethical and noble refusal to participate in an otherwise gamed system? Or are they (perhaps purposefully) ignorant of how the game works?
I do not have the answer to any of these questions, and am glad that I am not required to. A site with as much potential as this one is always going to have its flaws and glaring inconsistencies. So I say hang around, Martha. If nothing else, the Dust will be here every week. With absolutely no chance of ever showing up beneath you with a this was a lovely piece!
Your column really sucks. The advice is almost always way off base, if not outright stupid. Are you seriously getting paid for this? That can’t be true. Giving advice should be taken seriously, and you rarely seem to. Every week I read you, and every week I end up thinking that Asking The Dust is a total waste of time.
You may have point. But I have checks. A big stack of them. Which I intend to keep cashing.
I appreciate the criticism. And the willingness to be negative. You might consider working on the constructive end of the pointy stick, but that’s quibbling.
There is a fine line in all of us that You Suck needs to cross every so often.
My advice: don’t read next week. Then, if the days roll by in a gray fog, and you just can’t sleep, and a certain part feels a little swollen no matter how you attend to it, and you keep looking frantically at the calendar for Tuesday to roll around again–come on back. On the other hand, if you’re Dust-sober for a full seven days and sleeping like a baby, and you win forty bucks on a pick six, and that lingering rash clears, you’ve almost certainly made the right decision.
Relief, as they say, is just a click away.
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