It’s a year I wish I could erase from my past entirely. Just drag and drop all the memories into the trash bin, right click and select Empty Trash.
But it’s time to revisit 2004, shine a harsh light on the patchy facial hair and poor choices of teenage Dusty.
2004: The Year of Cringe
Let’s set the scene right away. The following is a 100% genuine, word-for-word blog entry I wrote in my LiveJournal on January 1st, 2004:
I am nu-metal.
I am hurt, like Linkin Park, and Staind (and don’t say otherwise, you closed-minded biatches!!! yeah you…you know who I’m talking to!)
I am brash, like Limp Bizkit (f*** yeah!)
I am a little crazy at times, like KoRn. (WeIrD!)
I am fond of black face paint, like Papa Roach. (Goth Poser!!)
I am under-rated, like TRUST Company and Adema. (go listen to them!!)
I am Deftones, Disturbed, TRAPT, Evanescence, Rammstein, Three Days Grace, Out of Your Mouth, Reveille, Crazy Town, Shine Down, Breaking Benjamin, Taproot, Finger Eleven, Kid Rock, Cold, Closure, Blindside, (hed) Planet Earth, Static- X, The Dreaming, Skindred. (AND many more!)
I am Nu-metal. Best genre ever. Made for the hurt. Made for the f**ed up kids who are misunderstood. Made for everyone. Pop-oriented. No crazy guitar solos. Accessible. Fun. Vent. Loud. Experimental. Branched out. Looked down on. Angry.
And I will live on through my own music. I present to you my brand new lyrics! Check them out, yeah, I wrote them about someone, wahtevah! I’m a rockstar.
“Don’t you dare tell me how hurt I’ve been
I’ll think twice before I let you in
Girls like you need to stop staring
Stop and think that maybe, I’ve stopped caring.”
oh god oh man oh god oh man yeah that was me
It was a resolution of sorts, a screed toting my virtues as an ambassador of angst. This is the mentality I had for all of 2004, oscillating between faux-bravado, faux-rage, and faux-wistfulness every week.
All over a girl. Allaura had broken up with her anarchist punk boyfriend, opening a window of opportunity for me, then shutting it, then opening it again, then shutting it again. Just like the year before, she strung me along online but refused to interact with me at school. It went to ridiculous extremes. She’d tell me that she printed out the “novels” I’d written and kept them by her bedside table, only to completely ignore me the following day in English class. She told me she wanted to travel the world with me, but would not go to semi-formal with me. I went to her house again for some more music talk and even met with her for coffee on different weekends; the following Mondays she’d call me a weirdo in front of her friends. I’m in no way excusing the dork I was back then, but the immature behaviour was very much on both sides of this equation.
Speaking of equations- my grades, especially in math class, started to tank hard. I was no longer the golden genius I used to be, and my parents were extremely disappointed in me- for good reason. I was a loser, a moody doofus with a stupid haircut who wasn’t contributing anything to society. Instead of focusing on school I was skipping class and going to the mall to buy Matthew Good CDs for Allaura.
Giant Killer Bees- my band with Ayden and Finn- was awful. Hilariously awful, but not hilarious enough to merit the weekly yowling coming from the basement. I would eventually start to record my own music as well, and it was a hundred times worse. The band at least had a sense of humour about how terrible we were and the mp3 files would provide laughs for many years afterward. I would rather nobody ever hear the absolute garbage I pumped out.
How proud of it I was though, bragging nonstop on my LiveJournal. Through some strange connection my blog caught the eye of a Port Perry girl named Stacy, who saw me as a wretched soul in need of salvation. At first I was intrigued, trading a few music suggestions with her online. Then somehow she found my home address and began mailing me nonstop letters and I was a little less intrigued and blocked her.
Three major field trips followed. One to the zoo, one overnight to Stratford, and one completely arbitrary one to downtown Toronto. During the first two Allaura once again ignored me, which was especially hurtful as the second one took place on my birthday. During the third one the class was allowed to wander the city core for a large portion of the day, and because I didn’t want to repeat the frustration of the previous field trips, I went off on my own adventure.
I got lost and walked in circles (or very large squares, rather) for about an hour before stepping into an HMV to cool off and calm down. I walked up to the rock section and that’s where I met DJ.
DJ was a lot like Allaura, but less edgy and more hip. Instead of AFI and Blink-182, DJ was all about Metric and Modest Mouse. We talked for a bit and she told me the directions to get back to my class’s meeting spot. We exchanged MSN contact info and I was only lightly scolded when I got on the school bus fifteen minutes late.
DJ and I would talk often that summer, and when Allaura got a new boyfriend it didn’t phase me at first. I was convinced that the universe had purposely gotten me lost and the odds of me meeting DJ in that HMV were so slim that it had to be destiny that I just happened to have met her in there.
I was also preoccupied with getting a job. My parents were really angry with my abysmal grades at the end of grade 11, and refused to let me coast along any further. So I applied to a golf course, a retirement home, that shady knife selling scam that used to be all the rage, a restaurant- and not one of them got back to me.
I also got my G1, which is essentially the only thing I achieved in 2004.
Overall it was a tense, uncomfortable summer at home, made worse when the family went on a trip to Kingston and we met with an old family friend. That family friend brought up the fact that I was heading into my final year of high school, and asked what my future plans were. I told her that I wanted to get into Ryerson’s school of radio and television, which was news to my parents. One of the worst car rides I’ve ever taken was heading back to our campsite that evening, my dad berating me for going to a “Mickey Mouse school” and throwing away my life for pipe dreams. “I’ve had students come back to me who went into media,” he said “and they failed miserably and went into business, because that’s what pays.”
Upset, I went by the lake to look at the Kingston shoreline and the lights in the distance. It was then that I had one of my trademark Big Moments, an especially poignant one at that. After about a year of minimal self-reflection, I’d been having a few existential thoughts that August. But this was the big one.
It was here that I suddenly felt like I was connected to the past and future all at once again, and I would exist in that current mindset forever. It was similar to that moment I’d had lying in the inflatable pool three years earlier, only on a more earthly scale. This felt like a mirror that shattered, and every moment of deep thought I’d have from that point onward would be a reflection of this one. Any time I’d stop to think about life I would be transported back to this spot and my conscience right there in August 2004 would be fundamentally unchanged no matter what point in life I was at. I’d be feeling the same emotion, existing as the same person, as if nothing had changed. This is the moment that echoed forever.
DJ rejected me right before school started up again in September, and with Allaura happily in a relationship I had nobody to pine after. Sucked for me, but my grades did get a lot better in the first semester of grade 12. I also had a spare period, which lightened my workload and also allowed me to sneak off downtown one night to meet the up-and-coming rock band Muse at a meet and greet in HMV.
I got myself a job at No Frills, proudly boasting that I could walk into the “Employees Only” area to my friends. The work was awful, but I was so excited to be part of a new crew. I’d be scraping rotten egg yolk off the grimy floor of a dairy cooler, but I was making new friends and money too.
I began squirreling away funds into my savings account for university, but I also began buying a lot of stuff. The power to make frivolous purchases was now in my hands. The first of these purchases was a webcam, and I believe this can strongly be considered the beginning of my videography career. I had always loved being a performer, being the centre of attention during school presentations. I would get musical accompaniment, audience involvement, actors, lighting, costumes. They were full productions. They were very extra. Every single time. My grand plan for the webcam was to create continuing series of videos to post to LiveJournal, ranging from music videos for my awful songs to attempts at stand-up comedy.
The webcam’s video quality prevented me from doing that, so all I ended up using it for was to take moody self-portraits with song lyrics underneath.
LiveJournal became less a blog and more my multimedia platform, a springboard for all the different projects I’d launch. There was no YouTube or Facebook at that time so this would be my art zone. A lot of what I put up was absolute garbage, but this was an important development for me as a creator and would inform the way I’d use all social media from then on. Not to share anything about my personal life, but to share things to entertain people and make them laugh.
Like with all online forums, there were toxic components to LiveJournal, one of which was absolutely devastating to me.
A group of girls from my school had written up a bracket of the least desirable, most unattractive guys in the grade. Two by two they’d be pitted against each other and one ‘gross’ guy would move forward. Not only was I in the mix, but I ended up ‘winning’ the entire contest, and was crowned the ugliest guy in the grade. The guy nobody would ever even think of dating.
I didn’t know these girls personally, but I did have some mutual contacts with them- including Allaura. She made no effort to defend me online.
This one unnecessarily cruel LiveJournal post irreparably damaged my self-esteem, and I never really recovered from it. From then on all I saw in every mirror was an ugly, unlikable clod. No wonder I’d been rejected five times already- there was no way a girl would ever think of me as a potential love interest.
It sat roiling inside my brain, and I decided to immaturely go about confirming this information. Using my sister’s MSN account I pretended to be my friend Ayden’s fake girlfriend. I told Ayden I was doing this, reassuring him it was just for the lolz, to troll some people. That statement was mostly true.
I contacted an acquaintance from school who had a huge crush on Ayden, making her jealous while getting her opinion about guys in my grade. Eventually I got to the topic of myself.
“So who is this Dusty guy?”
“Oh he sits with them too.”
“Is he hott??”
“ew omg NO NOT HOT”
“lol”, I replied as I reaped what I had sowed.
I went for a walk on that cold October night, listening to Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” like a chump as I sat on the bleachers and had another moment.
I really was a total loser.
November was rough, and some self-harm was involved. Luckily I could rely on my dog for emotional support, as she always somehow knew exactly when I was feeling my worst. Walks helped. My acquaintance Aimee also helped me through some of it, and we became friends. I also set her up with the guy who would be her future husband, so that’s cool.
If any good came out of that LiveJournal post, it’s that it took me down a few pegs. I was still moody and depressed, but a massive chunk of that braggadocio had dissipated. I was not, in fact, as cool as I thought I was.
It would be a few weeks into the next year before I made a massively important life decision, but the gears had turned and the worst part of me was on the way out.