Dear Dust

Why can’t I quit smoking? I feel so sad without cigs, and they are killing me. Am I nuts? I can’t sleep or even work without them. Help.



Dear Lizard

You can’t quit smoking because you are addicted not only to nicotine, but also a grocery list of psychological and social benefits that come from being distracted by habitual routine. Yes, they are killing you. No, you’re probably not nuts. If you’ve already exhausted the patch, the gum, hypnosis, Wellbutrin, and/or acupuncture, you’re going to have to consider balls-out cold turkey. Which, in my mind, is the best method. If only because it’s the method that worked for me. After a dozen years of wanton indulgence in many of the pleasures I thought were an essential part of an artistic youth, I went cold turkey. Not just from my beloved filterless Gauloises, but also my beloved marijuana. As well as all varieties of pills, powders, alcohol, and coffee. I spent two years entirely and obsessively clean. But like my decade-long vegetarianism giving way to the smell of grilled chicken, I eventually reintroduced a moderation of wine and espresso. The rest I never went back to. I loathe the sight and smell of cigarettes in particular now, and can’t imagine there was once a time when I greedily sucked toxic exhaust into my lungs. It’s even harder to believe that for years I smoked on airplanes, which used to have little ashtrays built into the armrests, while a few rows away non-smokers gamely endured. It’s an unimaginable anachronism, nearly the equivalent of being leeched by a tonsured priest, or letting your children play with a broken thermometer.

My methodology? One morning I woke up feeling wretched. A bad taste in my mouth, short of breath, bloodshot eyes, hazy and jonesing for all the usual vices. A woman I barely knew and cared less about sprawled next to me on the futon. While reaching for my trusty Zippo and softpack, I had a blinding realization: on both a practical and existential level I had now spent a full third of my life doing everything I possibly could to mask my consciousness. If not obliterate it. Further, the ridiculous self-image of daring artistic individualism I had built so carefully over the years was in part a fashionable pose enabling the engagement of pursuits that not only weakened me, but were ultimately cowardly. If I was worth any of the things I professed to believe in, or intended to succeed on any expressive level, I could no longer indulge in a systematic negation of intellect.

Sure, all that sounds good, but what it really meant was this: I had to knock the shit off.

Or, as a display of personal performance art, keep snorting and shooting and smoking every goddamned thing I could get my hands on to such a saturnalian degree that I became an object lesson not only to myself, but a monument to the idea that self-destruction is its own aesthetic.

There really are no half-measures in life.

In the end, the pain of existence was more enticing.

So, I gathered all my shit up in a stained pillowcase, walked naked down three floors of fire escape, and tossed it into the Dumpster in the alley.

Was it easy? No. Is it possible that it’s really that simple? Yes.

You, Lizard, can do it too.

Do it now.



Dear Dust

I am so tired of the constant whining from TNB people about why the site doesn’t serve their every need, when most of them are fucking lucky to have a forum that will print them at all. Yes, I correspond with a lot of folks around here. And a lot of that correspondence involves the same dull replay of the same self-centered bitching. Why does everyone thinks everyone else’s writing sucks? Truth is, almost all of us are mediocre. We’re readable and funny. There’s lots of good lines and ideas. Even an unusual willingness to be vulnerable. But I can count on one hand the people who can really write, and I think we all know who they are. I mean people whose stuff should be on a bookshelf and not just a website. The rest of us, and I include me here, will never be more than web presences. Or random commentors. And I’m totally okay with that. So why is there this constant sense that a lucky break is all it would take to elevate some post about your old job into a book contract? I guess I put up with it mostly because I’m a pussy. I like having friends. And aside from the bitching, those friends are pretty cool. But I’d like to be able to step outside my nice gravatar self once in a while and be like shut the fuck up, already! so we can move on and start talking about politics or movies instead.

Really needed to get that off my chest.

Dust rules.

Matt X


Dear Matt

It’s amazing the volume of letters I get from those complaining about TNB, not to mention those complaining about those complaining about TNB. I also get a dozen letters a week singling out regular contributors and various polarizing figures, heaping them with abuse. I don’t print any of these, because it strikes me as cruel, although it would certainly increase circulation and spur conversation. My feeling is that some people are good at being reasonable online while they may not be so in person. Others cannot help themselves, and their particular mania tends to spill out all over the boards no matter how they struggle to contain it. If they do struggle to contain it. So I can only imagine what is said in your private conversations. From the moment I began this column, beneath the veneer of friendliness and community, I observed an undercurrent of disdain and anger. I have often wondered over the resulting months why some people seem so unhappy, let alone inwardly directed.

My feeling is that maintaining a regular presence at a site does not entitle you to a say in its construction or execution. Opinions are not like assholes, since some people manage to absorb the benefits while excreting nothing but a quiet appreciation. And since all the work is done by others, for free, the zipping of the proverbial cake hole in terms of random complaint seems a wise and appropriate response.

In terms of writing quality, the establishment of a pecking order is endemic to any group of writers. From the Left Bank to the Left Behind series, no two writers have ever spent more than nine minutes in a room together without at least silently denouncing the other as a hack. I used to teach fiction workshops. As soon as the door closed on the first day I always said “look around. Someone in this classroom is going to write the worst story of the semester.” People giggled nervously. Some appeared to consider leaving. Others smirked, sure their story would not be the worst. I went on to say “and it doesn’t really matter, does it? Writing is transitory. If your story gets killed in this particular critique, the re-writes it inspires may well make yours the best in the next class. So let’s keep our comments constructive. And for those whose pieces are a little more honed, let’s not get too pleased with ourselves.”

This statement never failed to engender an instant camaraderie, as well as subvert the pecking order process before it began.

And what’s really interesting is that the absolute worst story of the semester always ended up coming from one of the faces beaming with confidence that they would not be the one to provide it.



Dear Dust

There are so many hot girls on TNB and I really want to meet a few. Please, can you print this and then hook a brother up when they respond? I am 27, in shape, like to party, and have a great job. Oh, and I hate books. I think everyone on here secretly hates reading, too. Let’s stop pretending to be literary and just fuck!


Proust Wanted It


Dear Proust Wanted It

I will toss your offer out to the wider population to respond to as they wish. But I have to say that your notion let’s stop pretending to be literary and just fuck! has definite merit, even if only as a diffusion of the self-seriousness that afflicts just about everyone who has ever sat in the dark, late at night, admiring one of their own paragraphs on a blinking screen.

So, thanks for that.



Most sincerely


The Dust




Ask Me Anything.

Talk Shit. Be Vulnerable.

Go ahead, I know it hurts.

[email protected]


All contact info is entirely confidential.


Love Dust on Facebook.

Blindly follow Dust on Twitter.

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

36 responses to “Ask The Dust – Vol. 23”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    1) The cold, hard truth is that I would likely have never quit smoking if I hadn’t gotten pregnant. I talked big shit about doing it–any minute now–and it never seemed to happen. And even once I knew I was pregnant, it’s an addiction powerful enough that I paused and thought and bartered with myself about how much risk I was willing to put myself and my baby at in order to be able to keep smoking, at least a little, throughout my pregnancy.

    It was that thought that marked the insanity of the addiction for me.

    Unlike you, though, I don’t hate that me that smoked. I don’t hate other people who smoke. I silently relish the smell of 2nd hand smoke, on those rare occasions I encounter it. I don’t know if this means I’m likely to start again after the baby comes, or if it’s just a sort of nostalgic, melancholic reaction, like one might have when encountering a toxic but smoking hot exgirlfriend/boyfriend.

    2) I’ve already said plenty on this, so I’ll just stop, save to say that paying attention to all this crap will not only ruin Matt’s fun–it will ruin his writing.

    I mean, the drama only lasts as long or lives in one’s world for as long as one lets it.

    Take the reins, Mr. X.

    3) Ew.

    • Becky Palapala says:


      But Lizard, the crazy, sad, preoccupied feelings that come with quitting do go away. The bummer is you have to just sit there and outlast them. There’s nothing that’s going to make them not happen.

      So, you know. Agreeing to quit smoking is nothing less–and yet nothing more–than agreeing to go to war with your own head.

      Good luck.

      • Fabian says:

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

        “My head bombed my heart’s rebel stronghold long ago, causing the heart to flee to refugee camps across the border.”

  2. Gloria says:

    Letter 1: gah. Also, maybe I can recommend The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr? It hasn’t helped me stop smoking yet, but it gives me something to read while I’m out for a smoke break. Though, I know a handful of people who found the book to be just the thing.

    Letter 2: I think a Complaint Box section would be a fun feature at TNB. We could all use anonymous emails and faceless gravatars to say hateful things to each other. My daughter, when she was a tween, used to tell me that every time I pointed my finger at her, there were three more pointed back at me. Cheeky and sophomoric, sure, but there’s truth there.

    Letter 3: Um…maybe a “Singles” tab, too? Or just a “Singles” tab? Make love, not war?

    • Fabian says:

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

      “A singles tab is a fine idea. As long as there’s a Wild Side section. And a Nelson Algren subsection. Helmsman Listi?”

      • Gloria says:

        Oh, man. I just had to Google Nelson Algren. How do I not recognize this name? It seems like one I would’ve bumped into over an over. Anywho, there’s fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. And I’ve given far more time to far less interesting subjects. So, thanks, Dust!

  3. Oh my dear Dust, you top yourself week after week…

    • Fabian says:

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

      “You are entirely too kind.”

  4. Tawni Freeland says:

    1. Mmmmm…Gauloises. But with filters, please. I used to love those. And Lucky Strike Lights because I’m a sucker for cool packaging. I haven’t smoked since I peed on a stick five years ago (and realized why I was eating everything that couldn’t outrun me and sleeping twelve hours a day). Smoke smells bad to me now, and like you mention, Dust, I can’t believe I used to smoke either. It seems bizarre to me that I ever even tried smoking, considering that I didn’t touch a cigarette until I was twenty-nine years old and moving to Los Angeles, that smoky, coke-twitchy city of ironic health nuts. (I do miss it so.)

    2. This freaks me out. People whine about being allowed to write here? As I fall firmly in the “fucking lucky to have a forum that will print them at all” category, I don’t understand what there might possibly be to whine about. Tell them to shut it, Matt. Do it.

    3. That’s sexy. If there’s one thing that makes me hot, it’s a twenty-something guy who hates to read. Add “is cruel to animals” and “drives a Hummer” to that list, and I’m all yours.

    • Gloria says:

      And has a HUGE belt buckle. That’s my favorite.

      • Tawni Freeland says:

        Especially if the huge belt buckle features a Confederate flag. Mmmm. So hot.

        • Richard Cox says:

          And hates cats because it’s the manly thing to do.

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          Heh. I was actually thinking about the asshole guys from my high school who used to talk about shooting/running over/hurting cats like it was funny, rather than completely sociopathic, when I listed “is cruel to animals” up there.

          REAL MEN LIKE CATS. (Or at least would never, ever hurt one.)

        • Gloria says:

          I know this guy. He’s the one with the NO FEAR tattoo on his bicep and a do-rag with stars and stripes on his balding head.

        • Fabian says:

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

          “Yes, Gauloises. Sigh. I do miss their ability to to clear small enclosed spaces. And ward off insects. And make me feel like Yves Montand. Also, I recently had my NO FEAR tattoo adjusted to read KNOW FEAR.”

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      P.S. My younger sister has smoked heavily for most of her young adulthood and recently quit cold turkey. Exercising regularly and trying to eat healthfully really helped her, as smoking obviously isn’t a part of that lifestyle. She had the hardest time psychologically trying to resist ritualistic smoking traditions, such as smoking on the back patio in the evening with her (still smoking) boyfriend. She had success overcoming those moments by avoiding them completely to replace them with new rituals. (Example: Drinking hot tea with honey instead of smoking to give the hands something to do/appease the oral fixation. She also started taking long walks when she felt the urge to smoke.) So far she’s smoke-free for a few months and feeling so much better.

      Good luck to you, Lizard. I genuinely hope you can kick the addiction.

  5. Yvonne says:

    1) Dammit. Now, I have to think about quitting smoking.
    2) God, I hate whiners. Unless, of course, it’s me doing the whining. Because mine is legit. Always.
    3) He makes me wanna stop pretending to fuck and just be literary for a while. Wait …

    • Fabian says:

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

      “In truth, the third letter made me want to cease all pretense, crawl under heavy covers, and read for a month.”

  6. pixy says:

    1. i’m not a smoker myself, but i’m not a smoke nazi either. i mean, i’m cool with letting other people do what they want, it’s a free frickin’ country and if i don’t like that you smoke where i’m at, i can move and/or leave. as a matter of fact, my parents were both smokers and my “mommy” scent, that smell that, once i get the tiniest hit of it, my head gets all pavlovian and turns every which way to find my mom (so i can run far far away), is the smell of charlie red mixed with marlboro lights. my mom was all class.
    BUT, there is a lady here in the office who is taking chantix to quit smoking and she swears by it. it’s the negative association drug for quitting smoking. it makes you ralph after smoking so you don’t want to do it anymore. smart, i say. because i know a lot of people who hate throwing up so much that they’d rather not smoke so they don’t have that reaction anymore. as a matter of fact, she’s been off it for a week and the effects of the chantix are SO BAD that she turns green even talking about cigarettes. extreme, yes. but it worked.

    2. i talk with some people here outside of this site and there’s not a bitch to be found. we mostly talk about how rad drinking is, red-headed people, fake quotes and lemon pudding wrestling matches. i don’t know what you’re talking about, X.
    and i think quality of writing is in perception. i am not a writer (duh) but i’m an appreciative and attentive reader and, as such, i’ve found what i like and what i don’t in writing, but it’s not my place to say what is universally good or bad, only what is good or bad to me. admittedly, i LOVE what i like because i know that i don’t have the capacity to do it (write well) myself so i heartily admire and appreciate those who can.
    besides, in my last 2 writing classes, we did peer reviews of papers before we turned them in. i was HORRIFIED to see what college level students of all ages considered acceptable writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation *like i’m one to talk*) to turn in for a grade. so it’s comforting to me to have a place, even if it is on the interwebs, where people still know how to do the writing thing, or at least have enough respect for it to not turn it into a textfest.

    3. you wear sunglasses and hats inside with your ed hardy t-shirts, don’t you?

    • Fabian says:

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

      “Can someone please explain to me who exactly Ed Hardy is? And should I feel bad about wearing my Jude The Obscure t-shirts around now?”

      • pixy says:

        ed hardy is the line of “clothing” designed by christian audigier based off the, essentially, flash art drawn by tattoo artist don “ed” hardy.

        looks like this and is a fantastic way of spotting douchebags from afar. urban dictionary has some hilariously apt definitions here.

        re: jude the obscure t-shirt
        don’t feel bad. wearing that makes you mod/hipsterish, not a douchebag.

      • pixy says:

        ps – i hate comment jail. it just ate my response.

  7. Greg Olear says:

    I want to take The Dust’s writing workshop.

    • Fabian says:

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

      “I am a hundred percent certain that desire would wane twenty minutes into the first class.”

  8. dwoz says:

    My stepfather was a professor of English in a small but reasonably respectable college. I swear to God, we had to put him on a suicide watch when it was the end of the semester and he had to read and grade the final papers. Anything with a serrated edge was removed from the house.

    He would let me read them. Sometimes I could even figure out the subject matter being discussed/analyzed/reviewed. Sometimes the word salad was breathtaking, Palinesque in it’s breadth and scope.

    Having just been invited to join the ranks of contributor to this fine site, I have given pause to wonder why it happened. Surely the obscurity of the humorous references I make in my comments are easily and often misconstrued as mere tone-deaf gibberish. The conclusion I’ve come to is that my role is to be the anode, attached to the hull below the water line. Tough job, but I’m game. If there were no constant supply of fodder for two-bit catharsis, the pressure would build to dangerous levels.

    On letter number three: I am wondering if this letter writer would be surprised to discover that water is wet. While it seems crass, I recall a story (apocryphal most likely) about a guy who would walk up to every woman he saw, and invite her up to “do the nasty”. He would receive a punch in the gonads or a slap in the face or an angry ‘no’ for 199 of every 200 women he approached. You do the math.

    Having said that…any women in residence or fellowship at The MacDowell Colony, you have a standing invitation for a coffee/lunch/light dinner, my treat. Guys too, for that matter! But if you’re a guy, don’t expect me to hit on you. Come to think of it, if you’re a woman, you probably shouldn’t expect that either!

    • Fabian says:

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

      “You were not previously a contributor to this site, but are one now? Interesting. I could be wrong, but I believe you’ve been around since the earliest columns. I’m curious as to why this status has suddenly changed.”

      • dwoz says:

        I may be mistaken, but I believe it’s very much like a good, proper Stilton.

        Firstly, it’s an acquired taste, and secondly, it requires a goodly period of time to fester. Thirdly, Helmsman Brad may have been feeling chagrin, when it was brought to his attention that I had been “weft behind.”

        By the way, full agreement on the cold turkey method of addiction mitigation. When I was about 10 years old, I was smoking about a half pack a day, due of course to the peer pressure of trying to run with my older brother’s meaner, badass crowd. One day, found myself feeling ill and weak-of-breath. Looked at the cigarette I was half-finished with, made the connection, tossed it into the snow bank and never lit another. Every year or two I try a hit off someone’s cigarette, only to be starkly reminded of that early decision.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    Letter 1: Agree.

    Smoking, like so many other drugs, is so insidious in that it ultimately serves to provide relief from the pain of not having it. I smoked for a long time. Back in the more Epicurean days, I’d put back four or five packs in the course of a long weekend, but for the most part, I was a pack a day guy. One day I woke up, hacked and wheezed my way out of bed and simply picked up my smokes and threw them out. Amazingly, I was able to walk away without too much withdrawal or agony. I hated not having a smoke after dinner, when drinking, or when going for a long walk. But as my senses recovered, so did my outlook on many other things, and I count myself lucky to have gotten off relatively easily. Here’s wishing Lizard lots of luck finding what they need to move past the cancer sticks.

    Letter 2: Agree.

    Of course there will be an inordinate volume of behind-the-scenes criticism. If people compare their writing to other people’s, they will inevitably conclude that they are either better or worse. I’ve heard the carping as well and no one has ever equated themselves to another contributor- they view themselves as superior or inferior, without publicly comporting themselves as such (although in some cases, they have). We’re insecure and we want validation. This is a natural symptom of those conditions.

    Letter 3: Disagree.

    You should have asked Proust to man up with a picture and profile so the ladies would be sufficiently informed to make a decision.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Read “informed” as “inflamed” and found myself somewhat disappointed on the re-read.

    • Fabian says:

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

      “I am pleased that there is now at least one other testimonial that the Just walk away method is a viable one. As mentioned above, it’s not for everyone. But I have found, though an informal polling of former smoker friends, that it is the method with the lowest recidivism rate.”

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    “From the moment I began this column, beneath the veneer of friendliness and community, I observed an undercurrent of disdain and anger.”

    I’m curious; was that your impression based on the posts and comments, or an impression created, or at least informed, by the “dozen letters [you receive each] week singling out regular contributors and various polarizing figures, heaping them with abuse”?

    • dwoz says:


      I co-own a website that has about 150 regular commenters of the 4,000 that are registered, and about 10,000 regular readers. More than a million page views a month. So the vast, vast majority are silent lurkers. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Dust is getting DOUBLE that number of letters he alludes to with some kind of carping or complaining.

      I’d also be tempted to say that if you’re not pissing some people off, you’re doing something wrong.

      • dwoz says:

        By the way, if I was admin on TNB, I would be getting very aggressive with the comment link spam that’s been going WILD over the last couple days. Ban those IP addresses!

        Someone’s figured out a way to get by the wordpress spam filters.

        • Fabian says:

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

          “My impression was based upon the relentlessly considerate and friendly tenor of the posts, and how that homogeneity pointed to a deeper unease. Also, yes, the letters that come in anonymously tend to run 60% negative.”

  11. dwoz says:

    I think letter number 2 has to be Irene Zion. She loves talking about politics.

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