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 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.)


Dear Marsha

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!




Dear Dust

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.



Dear January

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.




Most sincerely


The Dust



Address any questions to [email protected]

All contact information is entirely confidential.

TAGS: , , , , ,

J. ANGELUS DUST is not much interested in biography. J. Angelus Dust wants to know where it hurts.

39 responses to “Ask The Dust – Vol. 17”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Marsha sounds kind of boring. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t get more comments.

    Since TNB 1.0, we have encountered TNB nostalgia and the allegedly important topic of TNB comment culture & ego-stroking every 6-9 months or when people start to get sick of each other (again), whichever comes first. Though usually, at least in my experience, when people have these kinds of issues and find themselves personally or emotionally agitated and professionally or creatively indignant about goings-on at the site (and I don’t exclude myself from this), the site is not the problem. The discontent comes and goes; every long-time TNB writer encounters it at some point. Anything can become wearying from time to time if you do it long-term. We have all been Marshtha. We have all thought what she’s thinking. It’s normal and is not, as she may believe, a revelation, upheaval, or a new, troubling development of any kind. Dear Marsha: It’s not us, it’s you.

    In fairness, however, the TNB community will pay mighty, blustering lip service to the notion that the atmosphere here is too cloying and precious when objectivity is the attitude du jour, but very few people actually want to hear commentary that is critical, negative, or otherwise inadequately bejeweled or emotionally supportive. Open criticism is received about as well and in approximately the same manner as a flaming bag of dog shit.

    Except, like, 30 people answer the door and stomp on it at once, which can be kind of amazing. TNB contributors stick up for each other like an extra sensitive, hyper-educated, underemployed street gang.

    Kind of Revenge of the Nerds.

    • Gloria says:

      I would love to get sharp-edged criticism on my more literary pieces, which doesn’t really happen here on TNB too much. But that’s not what we do here. It just isn’t. Should it be? Meh? I mean, is there an official mission statement? Nobody is going to get fired. Fuck – – nobody even gets paid. Except Dust, I guess. Which is great because I happen to love his weekly column. It’s really wonderful, terrific, and, sometimes, gut-wrenching. Even thought provoking – kind of like when you write: Except, like, 30 people answer the door and stomp on it at once, which can be kind of amazing. TNB contributors stick up for each other like an extra sensitive, hyper-educated, underemployed street gang. Which made laugh out loud at my desk. So, thanks for that Becky. 🙂

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I’m 50% disgusted & embarrassed by and 50% sentimental about that reaction among contributors.

        Like, part of me urgently believes we’re all grown ups and people need to stand up for themselves and sort out their own shit. That the savior/protector delusion is totally awkward for adults to take on with respect to other adults who are not mentally disabled.

        The other part of me really likes having the option of being part of a lynch mob. Or better yet, leading one.

        • Gloria says:

          See my comment below.

        • fabian says:

          Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Becky Palapala! Mr. Dust says:

          “Sentiment is the dung which clogs and ultimately seizes the writerly carburetor. Your Jekyll side is likely correct in spurning such indulgences. On the other hand, Hyde wants a complimentary donut. Or maybe a compliment, and then a donut. As we all know, both are nearly impossible to resist.”

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Truly, Dust. I cannot be more honest with you when I say that nothing makes me more uncomfortable and agitated than a compliment. I’m sure it’s all some elaborate defense mechanism stemming from substandard self-confidence, but eschewing psychobabble, in practical application, the end result is that I’d much rather have people talk to me about ideas than attempt to placate me with personal praise. I don’t like giving compliments, either.

          But I do like donuts. I would take a donut. I’d give away donuts. I’d much rather TNB traded in donuts than in compliments.

        • Gloria says:

          Oh, man, Becky. We’d be like those guys on The Axiom in WALL-E.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Seee????? That’s what our SOULS are like from all the compliments. Shit clogging carburators and plaque clogging our writerly arteries. Gluttons and feeders everywhere!

          Feeders, Gloria!

  2. Dana says:

    This was a lovely piece.

    I’ll say this much for The Dust; almost every time he posts I have to make a side trip to dictionary.com.
    This week it was “adumbrated”. Nice.

    Marsha says: “…there’s a lot more that is nothing but glorified blogs.”

    Zing! I have on very rare occasions found things on this site that were unreadable or that just don’t seem to fit, but your criticism sounds much like sour grapes. I bet I’ve read about 80% of the material on this site for years and even comb the archives when I’ve exhausted the new material. With so much ambivalence about commentary on the posts, maybe comments should be turned off and discussion moved to comment boards. I’d hate that, but what do I know? I’m only a consumer. With a whole bookshelf full of TNB authors.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Dana! Mr. Dust says:

      Really wonderful of you to say. I agree with your inference that the number and quality of books in print by TNB authors refutes much of the criticism of the content in general.”

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Letter 1:


    Yeah, the Comment Culture of TNB. I participate in it, I have benefited from it, and yes, I understand that there are rules that I follow, both consciously and subconsciously. I will try to frame my comment here in terms of what I really do/believe, rather than generalized perceptions of what is or why it could be.

    First, my comment philosophy has changed quite a bit since I started contributing a little over a year ago. I initially assumed that commenting within your own piece was a thinly-veiled tool to simply drive up the comment totals and thus make your pieces appear to be so fascinating that given the choice between your piece and a one with fewer comments, a new reader would choose yours. So I held off commenting.

    Then I began chatting with senior contributors who advised that it is the comment culture that distinguishes us from traditional print- as you note, tearing down the wall between Author and Reader. This contributor pointed out that comments within a piece are sort of like a party, with everyone throwing opinions around that are often unrelated to the content. But it’s a social forum that people not only seem to enjoy, but that is pretty open to anyone who wants to join.

    I’ve heard the complaint that the TNB comment culture is cliquish, and while I see that perception myself, I also have seen that it is not exclusive- anyone who wants to spend the time as a regular reader/commenter is quickly part of the community. I have generally taken a supportive role in my comments, but that’s not why I find myself so deeply enmeshed in the culture here. Just look at someone like DWoz, who not only doesn’t contribute but who often takes contrarian positions- he’s just as accepted here as I or anyone else, and from what I’ve seen, his participation is as vital as anyone’s.

    I think the point is that the internet is a great big place and people have lots of things they can read and do. If someone takes five or ten (or fifteen or twenty) minutes to read my piece and leave a comment, you bet your fucking ass I’m going to thank them and comment back. And if one of those people then takes the time to publish their own piece, then I’m going to go over there and support them with a comment as well. Call it karma, conscience, or whatever- that’s how I do it.

    Are there times I comment under a piece that I don’t like. Either I don’t find the tone or style engaging, I outright disagree with the opinions expressed in the piece, or I find the author to be pretentious or inauthentic. But I might like the person outside of that piece, and/or they might be someone who regularly supports me. So yes, I comment. I try not to be inauthentic myself though, so sometimes I’ll leave a comment that doesn’t praise the piece but instead shares a story of my own. Or maybe I’ll find one or two aspects of the piece that are worthy of support, and I comment accordingly.

    With all of the contributors on board, and new ones signing up every week, I personally don’t have time to keep up with a 100% comment rate. I used to try, but it just doesn’t work for me. So a lot of times I’ll leave comments for a new person, or someone who isn’t getting many comments, and that’s that. But if that person doesn’t dive in and support the other writers, I find myself pretty uninterested in continuing to shower that person with support. I don’t care so much if they comment on my stuff- just someone’s stuff. There are too many authors who come in here and take advantage of TNB without giving anything back, and those people should be embarrassed, in my opinion.

    We authors have a great gift here- we get to contribute amid some pretty big name authors, we have an active and enthusiastic readership, and we don’t have to do a whole lot- one piece a month, minimum. So when I see people coming in here and posting piece after piece without giving anything back to the site in the way of volunteering or supporting other authors, my interest in their contributions drops to zero. My take on it is that you get from TNB what you put into it.

    Letter 2:
    Agree. You’ve got to love when someone takes valuable time out of their day to compose and send an email telling you that something you do sucks. To say that you don’t take this seriously reveals that the author of the second letter is either delusional or they have a third grade reading comprehension that precludes them from understanding anything that is not literal. As my comments indicate, I don’t always agree with your advice, but you’ve tackled some very serious subjects, as well as some fluffy ones, intellectual ones, and dicey ones, and while you might be irreverent at times, you always deliver advice that is appropriate for the tone or subject matter of the question. Stupid questions get silly replies, and serious questions (like the bullying letter), get heartfelt, articulate responses (and good comments).

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Joe Daly! Mr. Dust says:

      “To your last point, I always enjoy coming across a review online that says Hated this book. Couldn’t even finish it. How can you review something that you didn’t finish? If you don’t like it, fine. Don’t want to finish? Fine. But then how can you have the requisite information to pass judgment? Odd. I get the same, but inverse sensation from someone who says I read you every week. You suck. Perhaps try reading every other week?”

    • dwoz says:

      thanks for the mention, J.

      It’s not for lack of wanting, that I’m not a contributor. I just hope I’m not “the troll” in the Dust’s esteemed list. I wouldn’t spend another 5 seconds at this URL if it wasn’t fun and interesting.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    The key to appreciating the comment culture is motive. Sure, you are likely to get more comments on your own pieces if you comment liberally across the board…but is that really why you leave a comment, just to inflate the comments on your own piece? I leave comments on almost everything I read, if I have time, mostly because I want to support the writer who took the time to post the piece. Yes, there may be a quid pro quo element at work in some cases, but I know my reasons for leaving comments are more altruistic than mercenary. Maybe they began that way, but they haven’t been for years.

    And to what end do we stockpile comments? The dirty little secret is, although comments are weighted heavily on the logarithm used to compile the Most Popular list on the splash page, a shitload of comments does not necessarily equate to a shitload of individual page views. In other words, a piece that is a TNB inside joke type of piece may get 400 comments, but it may not be widely read beyond these pages. Whereas an author interview, say — or a Dust column — may not get many comments, but may actually draw more of an audience.

    What we write here is published. It exists in the world. It’s out there for good, unless that big magnetic whats-it that Richard was talking about awhile back happens. We are all J.E. Fishmans. And I like that, that the pieces live on, even as analog magazines rot away.

    Finally, I think it’s easy to know if there’s a piece on the site that’s really fucking great. Did anyone miss Zoe Zolbrod’s post this week, or Steve Sparshott’s a few weeks ago? Word has a way of getting out. Duke once compared TNB to TV. You flip it on, you don’t know what you’ll get; some programs are better than others. But the chance of reading something vital and new like those pieces — and, yes, like you, Dust — is what keeps us coming back, or me at least.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Greg! Mr. Dust says:

      “Unfailingly and consistently lucid are those opining mid-cigar.”

  5. Gloria says:

    Four and a half years ago, my fourteen year old daughter was repeatedly attempting suicide and failing in school, my 4 1/2 year old ADHD twin boys were being kicked out of daycare, and my marriage was falling apart. I got on MySpace to stalk my daughter, who had an account, and one day I got an invitation to read a blog written by some “author” named Brad Listi. (Everyone was an author on MySpace, it seemed.) I started reading and there I met some of the most important people I’ve ever called friends in my adult life. (Many of whom I’ve now met, eaten meals with, exchanged Christmas cards with, supported through illness, etc.) Then Listi migrated to bradlisti.com. Then he abandoned that site and said, “Now, now. I’ll still be over at The Nervous Breakdown.” So, I came over. Most of my friends did, too.

    And this is why I keep returning: fidelity. This is why I encourage the people on this site. And I’m thankful to feel encouraged by them. It’s a unique phenomenon for a website and, like any family, it has it’s dysfunctions. But if this element were missing, I wouldn’t stick around or participate as much.

    As to the quality of writing, well I wish it were more true that the cream rises to the top. Listi himself said on yesterday’s post (in the comments, of course) that he hates much of what he writes as soon as it’s written and put out there. I, too, feel this way about my own posts. Some I cringe about more than others. But I always try to put my best foot forward, especially since I’m posting with people like Duke Haney, Meg Worden, M.J. Fievre, Nick Belardes, Richard Cox, Simon Smithson… There are a lot of great writers on this site, and because of them, I’m constantly trying to be a better, more skilled writer myself.

    But, at the end of the day, it’s about fidelity. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I guess I feel a fair amount of fidelity to some people on the site, but it’s never felt genuine or poignant or substantive to me for public displays like reciprocal commentary to be the leading expression of that loyalty. It seems superficial. It makes me deeply uneasy. I feel gross when I do it, and I can tell when people’s comments on my work stem from obligation. It contributes, for me, to mistrust on condition of general phoniness. It is more important to me that people mean what they say, for better or worse. Some people, maybe more emotionally intelligent people, are able to appreciate the thought behind the gesture, but perfectionist as I am and prone, therefore, to brutal self-criticism and misgivings about my talents and the quality of my work, to know that there may be deception involved in external feedback or the various gauges of a piece’s success, further complicating my ability to assess things, is…

      I think part of me sees it as an act of hostility.

      • fabian says:

        Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Gloria! Mr. Dust says:

        “It is heartening that The Helmsman has helped so many through difficult waters, let alone using multiple technical iterations. Timon of Athens once said: “Fidelity is the measure of a man, and the downfall of a woman.” That can be read in numerous ways. But it can also be said that old Timon was a beard in a dress who thought every time he sneezed he was releasing liquid devil, and that the sun revolved around the Earth. The gauge of meaning is an embrace of the gauge rather than the ability to discern meaning.”

  6. I think, unless I’ve misread, that the crux of Marsha, Marsha, Marsha’s complaint is that a (nicey-nice alert!) wonderfully thought-provoking column like The Dust’s isn’t being validated with comments the way even lesser articles on TNB are. But to my way of thinking an advice column will elicit a different sort of comment if any, anyway. I haven’t previously commented, for example, because I figure the Dust hath spoken and the buck stoppeth with the Dust. Something like that. But I read with great interest each week nonetheless.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Cynthia Hawkins! Mr. Dust says:

      “I read the letter the same way. Less of a condemnation than a confusion at the lack of comment validation. Of course, I might feel differently if the subtext was that I suck. And I agree that advice is a different animal than a straight post. Further, I get all the validation I need from my betrothed, as we recline on throw pillows, feeding one another grapes in the bowels of Castle Dust.

      The buck stoppeth with me. I like that. Thank you for making an inaugural appearance.”

  7. Nathan Pensky says:

    RE: mercenary comment culture:

    I am a big fan of fandom, of people who are professional fans of stuff, who are not artists themselves but who pride themselves in being associated with art from the other side of things, who have no real stake in the matter except that they just enjoy art. I am that kind of fan of exactly one writer on this site, not because I like any of the other writers less, but because I just happen to know her writing better. It has about as much to do with quality as a Justin Bieber fan’s fandom has to do with the quality of Justin Bieber’s music–so, you know, a little bit, but not really. Fandom has to be organic, I think, and has to do more with one’s own personality than with notions of “quality.” Broad fandom is not necessarily cheap fandom, any more than specific fandom is somehow more worthwhile.

    As large fandom, or number of fans, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with quality, neither is the reverse true. Case in point: Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than Stanley Fish.

    So my question to people who are complaining about this then becomes, were you really looking for earnest criticism in the first place? Yes, getting compliments here is a bit like one’s mom telling him he looks nice before Prom, but we all love our moms, right?

    Intellectual communities wherein earnest, difficult criticism occurs would need to be grounded in a level of respect probably impossible in such numbers as are represented on this site, and would have to be closed off entirely from the public at large.

    I say, yay fandom, yay commenters. Furthermore, I think it’s impossible to engage in meaningful criticism without having first established a fan-based opinion. One is won over emotionally before the brain factors in.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Nathan Pensky! Mr. Dust says:

      “Yes, exactly. Fandom gets a bad rap, and is far too easy a target, but is secretly longed for by all, regardless of any objective (if that were possible) measure of quality. I concur that in any case, true criticism is not practicable on this site as it presently functions. Finally, I follow Stanley Fish on http://www.EgregiousBowtie.com

  8. I’m with Cynthia, I always read The Dust, but don’t necessarily comment because Dust has said it all and said it so very well.

    I came to TNB through the encouragement of Jessica Anya Blau… and while I was reluctant to join a “group” I had been reading TNB for a while in its past incarnations. I rarely if ever left a comment, but always enjoyed the pieces. It took a few posts on TNB for me to feel comfortable commenting, and only then because I wanted to acknowledge the provocative, thoughtful, interesting work I was reading, not thinking about padding my own comment tally. TNB, for me, has been a great place to meet other writers, to be encouraged, to flip the tables and be able to encourage others. While TNB is a daily read, and I do try to comment, I don’t always get the time. I’ve had a nasty eighteen months since publishing TSWFA, and writing and re-writing the next book has really taken me out of circulation. And while I am fortunate enough to have a great support system, it has been the friendships I have formed at TNB that have seen me through, whether I am “on the boards” or not. E-mails, phone calls, offers to read the WIP, all of those things didn’t happen on the public face of TNB, but privately, and have meant more to me that cracking an elusive number of comments. It is why I have stayed so long, why I continue to comment, why I continue to read, why I will try and encourage new writers at TNB and while I will still post new work. We aren’t here to rip people to shreds, and I think that is why TNB, as a site for creative people to gather, is so unique. Neither do I think we are blindly encouraging. I’ve found that the comment boards have a healthy mix. And if it seems we throw around a few too many lovely’s, or beautiful endings, stunning imagery and heartbreaking prose, well, so be it. It’s a harsh world out there for writers, and sometimes, reading the word lovely, can make all the difference in a day.

    Do I say lovely when I don’t meant it? No. But I also believe that while all the TNB pieces aren’t super polished and consistent (my own included), there is almost always something of merit. As with anything on the web with a staggering number of contributors, this site is constantly shifting and evolving and it is because of that the genesis of TNB survives.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Robin Antalek! Mr. Dust says:

      “If this site had a dozen more Robin Antaleks–no, that’s too greedy–say, even five more Robin Antaleks not commenting but lurking in the shadows, the karmic positivity might well overwhelm the circuits. Thank you for always reading. And quietly effusing compassion for writers.”

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      Robin, your comment commented on everything that I want to comment on, far better than I could’ve commented. The only thing I’d add is that often I read a post on TNB, and before I comment, I then read the comments, only to discover that all the commenters have already commented on what I would’ve commented on, and beyond–again far more articulately than I could’ve commented. So I’m silenced by it. Oh, one more thing: I do hope there’s some power in the less-is-more-commenter, because when I do comment, I’ve taken a plunge that doesn’t come naturally to me, so hopefully the writer knows its very sincere.

      • Victoria Patterson says:

        So don’t assume I’m not reading and appreciating if I don’t always comment. I appreciate that I have a forum to post sans gatekeepers. The post that took me the least amount of time and thought–Do Boob Jobs Sell Books–got the most comments, whereas the pieces where I put more time and effort get the least posts. So I don’t gauge my posts on comments. If I did, I’d put the word “Boobs” in every title.

        Oh, and another thing: I look forward to Dust every week. (How exciting. I commented TWICE. Somebody stop me–I’m on a roll.)

        • Nathan Pensky says:

          You commented once on something I wrote, so I’ll thank you now for that, because I don’t think I did then. Sincerity!

      • Victoria… congratulations on your new book! xx~ r

  9. I think the elephant in the room is that everyone knows Miss Vainglorious is me.

    Actually, is it a bad sign that I like it when we do these periodic self-examinations? I think, Dust, you get at it nicely when you say that “A site with as much potential as this one is always going to have its flaws and glaring inconsistencies.” Not only that but it’s slightly astonishing that TNB doesn’t have much, much more and that as many eye-rolls as the glittery positivity of the comments can induce, the overall effect of this tight, but open community is to cause writers, speaking from my own personal contributor experience, to put more effort and energy into their pieces than they might on outlets with gatekeeping editors.

    Also to Marsha, I’d argue that a few comment-magnet bloggy posts lend their own kind of non-literary authenticity to the mix. But that’s just me, vainglorious or at least lovably oblivious.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Nathaniel Misseldine! Mr. Dust says:

      “We here at Castle Dust apologize for making the NM/Miss Vainglorious connection too transparent. Next time, more clever artifice will be employed. Also, yes, the periodic self-examination, at least as far as it went, is essential.”

  10. I rarely comment on Dust columns, but I read them. I’ve wondered why that is. I think it has to do in large part with the fact that, in advice columns, the person you really want to communicate with is the original letter-writer, not the advisor per se. You want to tell the letter writer what YOU think s/he should do, whether you agree with Dust, etc. But that’s a different matter, and maybe doesn’t lead as cleanly to writing comments. It can seem bossy (I am bossy, but I feel the need to keep this in check online), and I’m not even sure that original letter writer is still reading.

    The author/commenter dialogue, which as several others point out is really a cornerstone of the atmosphere around here–that ability to actually become friends with the writer of a piece that interested you even if you’ve never met the writer before–is different if you’re responding to the letter writer, rather than the advisor, and don’t know if the letter writer is even reading, and if she or he is reading you’re not likely to hear back. I guess in that case it feels more like writing a “letter to the editor” wherein your own comment exists on its own more than as part of a dialogue. I’m a big commenter, but not so much a letter-to-the-editor-writer.

    Then again, if Dust mentions sex and Lawrence Durrell, all bets are off and I will comment.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Gina Frangello! Mr. Dust says:

      “Not the advisor per se? Are you sure? At any rate, Castle Dust is a place (with a moat) where one should feel free to let out their inner bossiness in an entirely inappropriate and messy way. Keep yourself in check no longer.”

  11. Brad Listi says:

    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.

    First: You’re lucky I gave you that amyl nitrate in the first place.

    Second: I couldn’t help but be particularly fascinated by the first letter, and its attendant response (gotta love that inimitable Dust style), as well as by all the comment board chatter.

    I think I’ve probably said this before, in one context or another, but I’m as fascinated by the goings-on at TNB as anyone. The site has always been run, more or less, with an anarchic spirit. The community and its culture sorta create themselves. The organism mutates. And so on. I just make sure the lights stay on.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Brad Listi! Mr. Dust says:

      “Concerning the amyl, “gave” is an interesting euphemism for “extorting two columns worth of material with.” But that’s neither here nor there.”

  12. dwoz says:

    I think my comment on the last Dust column was something to the effect that “I expect someone filing this -30- to sound a few fathoms of chain into a few areas…but to be this depth on EVERYTHING?”

    I think what I like about the column is that Dust does not address the question posed, he peels back the kabuki face paint and latex and skewers the root principles. Delaminates the facade, so to speak. There’s a Nasrudin-esque quality to his replies.

    For letter two: I never felt like my little unread blog was worthy, until I got a “you completely suck” message. To me, that wasn’t the apocryphal hundredth monkey, but it was monkey number one. Only 99 to go. Progress.

    As a frequent (too frequent) commenter here, I think my first comment ever was a critique, and then at some other time I gave another critique…and was quite soundly boxed up in the ears for it. Which is why my comments are mostly tangential and cloyingly about me. Because critique just simply isn’t the culture here. But comment totals aren’t that compelling…I mean, Summer Block is an absolutely stunningly brilliant writer who routinely gets a paltry three comments per offering.

    But who knows. I’m being frank, because I’m in the middle of a huge crisis of the life-altering variety. So Dust…keep on sucking.

    • fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, dwoz! Mr. Dust says:

      “One man’s Nasrudin is another man’s oppressive Mullah, but I appreciate the comparison. And like Nasrudin, I too am frequently associated with the tale The Ass With The Burden of Salt.

      As to your point on critique, I think you are entirely correct. I have not seen you have your ears boxed, but if you truly did deconstruct a post in a negative fashion, I have no doubt it was met with instant opprobrium.”

      • dwoz says:

        I would have associated a similar Nasrudin tale, of Nasrudin and the border captain.

        Nasrudin drove his donkeys across the border, their backs laden with straw. Every time, the border captain searched the bales, but could never find anything, although he knew that Nasrudin was smuggling something. Time after time, Nasrudin crossed and the border captain found nothing in he bales. Years later, after he retired, he and Nasrudin met in the street. “Nasrudin, I knew you were smuggling, all those years, but I could never catch you. Please indulge me the answer, what were you smuggling that I could never find?”


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