From the Vault: …the irrational immortality of youth

While I was digging through my blog archives yesterday for stories to tell at last night's Wil Wheaton vs. Paul and Storm show at Largo*, I found this post I wrote in September of 2009. I like it, and felt that it was worth reposting:

…the irrational immortality of youth

I didn't have to look at the weather forecast to know that a storm is on the way; I could feel it with the first step I took outside this morning with my dog.

As I stood on my patio and watched the steam rise off my coffee and swirl up through golden shafts of golden morning sunlight shot through a cloud-filled sky, I remembered a day like this one fifteen or sixteen years ago.

I'd just gotten home from Nice, where I'd lived and worked on a film called Mister Stitch for a few months. It wasn't the most pleasant movie in the world to work on (the other lead actor was an unprofessional nightmare) but the time I spent there working on it remains some of the best time in my life. I'd been acting since I was a child, but it wasn't until I lived in Nice and worked on Mister Stitch that I truly felt like an artist. I was fundamentally changed by the experience, seeing the world – especially entertainment – differently than I ever had before.

The day I got back from location, sometime in mid-January of that year, my friend Dave picked me up from LAX, and we went directly down the road to Manhattan Beach, to wait out the terrible rush hour traffic which stood between the airport and my house. After ten hours on an airplane, another 120 minutes to crawl 40 miles up the freeway wasn't exactly an appealing notion.

We parked in a mostly-empty lot and walked down toward the water. There was a winter storm on its way, driving powerful waves ahead of it that were so huge, they crashed up against the bottom of the pier and occasionally broke over the end of it. Wrapped up in the irrational immortality that's endemic to 22 year-olds, we walked dangerously close to the end of the shuddering pier, angry waves boiling beneath, and dared the Pacific Ocean to reach up and touch us.

I don't recall specifically what we talked about – I'm sure I regaled him with slightly-exaggerated tales of glamor and excess and artistic awakening along the French Riviera – but even now I can I clearly recall the terror and exhilaration I felt whenever foamy, freezing sea water splashed up through the spaces between the planks and soaked into the tops of our shoes.

Since I grew up and became a husband and a father, I've gone out of my way to avoid anything more dangerous than driving on the Los Angeles freeway system, so I can't imagine defying a Pacific winter storm like I did when I was in my early twenties … but standing on my patio in my late thirties, not really defying as much as tolerating the morning chill, I was grateful for the memory.

Someone on G+ pointed out that my son is now the same age I was when I stood on the end of that pier. Now I need to call him and remind him that he's not as invincible as he thinks he is, even though I know he'll think I'm just being paranoid… exactly the way I would have felt when I was his age.


*I took some silly video of our backstage bullshit, and I shot some film of Paul and Storm from the side of the stage. I broadcasted it live on Ustream, and you can see it in my channel archives.

21 thoughts on “From the Vault: …the irrational immortality of youth”

  1. It’s always a bit of a shock when life comes full circle but you don’t notice it until someone points it out. You feel a bit weak in the knees and need to sit down for a while.
    I grew up near Lake Michigan and we used to do the same thing on the pier. A storm over water has some sort of deep, primordial magic that calls to youth. Now, of course, I warn youngsters against this particular siren song.

  2. Wil,
    I love these posts, where you revisit the past and then provide thoughtful updates! I’m now the same age as my father was when he retired, and I think back to how he acted, and how I act, and marvel at the passage of time.
    I read your blog all the time, and I know you feel it’s outlived its usefulness, but longer posts allow the writer more time to develop ideas. G+ is ok, but not as satisfying to read – like snack food for lunch.

  3. It is a nice idea that you try to talk with your son, but remember you would have ignored someone your age now back then if they tried to warn you, and he will probably be the same. If you do tell him, it might well take another 20 years before he thanks you for what you said.
    We are wire that way, I don’t know why, but we are.

  4. I recently came to the realization that I was actual a more mature person when I was 22 than I am now. I’m not sure why but I feel sad about that. Perhaps because I was more willing to take risks and really feel what I was experiencing.
    I hope that you went easy on your younger self :)

  5. Hey Wil! Re-reading the above quote about the movie made me look it up on the IMDB to see which actor you worked with on Mr. Stitch, and have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. If you do, well then…feh on Wil Wheaton, you have a new mortal enemy!
    No, not really, you’ve always been a cool dude to me, and even though I honestly didn’t like Wesley back in the day (hey I didn’t enjoy TNG until the third season) I’ve found the character to be so much more interesting NOW that I’m not the same age…hee. Anyway enough flattery.
    Question: So the actor you starred in Mr. Stitch who’s initials are RH, he was really hard to work with? This distresses me because I love his work, and he’s one of my faves. Would you, have you or can you elaborate further?
    Question Two: YOU WERE IN LAST STARFIGHTER? Holy CRAP I LOVE THAT MOVIE. Would you, could you, have you shared your experience on that film?
    Fan – fellow William

  6. Great story. I must have been around 30 one time when I challenged the Pacific Coast in much the same way. Only in my case, I was sent a sleeper wave which almost…almost dragged me right out to sea (great for guys like me who are very poor swimmers). You’d think a guy who grew up in a coastal town and spent untold amounts of his youth playing at the beach would know better…
    After getting home that evening, I sadly learned that two young people were swept out to sea that same day…one of whom lost their life. And even worse, it was less than a mile away…and based on the time given in the news article…it had to be the very same gigantic wave. That was the last time I have ever declared myself mightier than the ocean…
    Hmm. And now here I sit some years later…calm and strangely relaxed about a job interview tomorrow for a position in another state which would change my life in exciting new ways if they deem me worthy of employment. I have no idea what that has to do with a cool beach story…maybe nothing, maybe everything. :)

  7. What a great story. Living in the San Fernando Valley, I have gone to the ocean at Topanga or Zuma many a time and stood at the waters edge taunting the fury of the vast Pacific. I’ve screamed obscenities and dared it to come and get me. I’ve always won the battles, but I am afraid that one day I may not win the war. Tonight I will probably dream of the ocean, will you be there too?

  8. “Someone on G+ pointed out that my son is now the same age I was when I stood on the end of that pier.”
    Wow. Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

  9. I really like these little remembrances that you post. They bring back memories of stuff I did when I was young (and sometimes still do even though I know better).

  10. Good story, although I might title it “The Irrational Immortality of Humanity,” because I encountered the Pacific much later than my 20s. I live in the Midwest, and vacation in SoCal approximately once a year. Several years ago (I’m now 50, so let’s say I was in my early 40s), I was standing knee-deep in the water at Laguna Beach or thereabouts, facing my family with my back to the ocean. A small wave came up and hit me in the back. I tumbled and for a moment, I thought I was going to be dragged out “there,” either to drown or be eaten by the Kraken.
    Neither happened, but I did get a good mouthful of seawater.
    Like you, Wil, I’m a husband and father, and have become more cautious about and around nature.

  11. My nephew, whose life I have been more deeply involved in than your average uncle, as his father (my brother) died shortly after he was born has recently turned 19. He’s bigger than I was at 19. He’s cooler than I was at 19. And in those rare moments of being honest with myself that plague me at 2 in the morning, he’s much better looking than I was at 19. He’s doing the perfectly normal thing of pushing away from the male figures in his life, ever so slightly, so that he can establish himself as his own man.
    I live in a state of absolute terror any time I dwell on the subject of his looming 20’s and upcoming college years. There are going to be ferocious women, ludicrous parties and endless miles of roads begging for ill advised road trips.
    I can only hope he gets away with twice as much as I did, and doesn’t even attempt half of it.

  12. So after watching you in of course ST, and re-finding you in my adulthood on BBT. Now I find the guild and I can’t believe I found an actor who is not a normal classified actor. Meaning you’re cool and down to earth and not all divaish. You rock Will! Yes I shall continue to read the awesomeness that is your blog. Game on Will :) /hug /flirt, crap he’s married lmfao!

  13. fascinating… how different was my life from yours when I was 22, I mean it is like totally different realm and now I can post a comment on your story.
    I like your stories ( and I always liked Wesley!). You are nice person, and that is not really such an often occurrence.

  14. The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary…got to love the names of the episodes on The Big Bang Theory. I’m in the midst of watching all the episodes in order, without “cheating” and finding answers to my questions via wiki/google. So anyway, the aforementioned episode is whence I first saw your character on TBBT. :) So many references make sense having seen that ep. even if you weren’t on screen that long….ie the dead meemaw card. lol. Can’t wait to see what season/episode you next appear.
    Thanks for being you and keeping me amused and delighted with your talents :)

  15. At 22, I would have behaved recklessly without thinking. At 26 I’d still be willing to do it. At 50, I know my mother would be even more willing than me.
    But please, god, don’t let my son ever do anything that isn’t 100% safe.
    Love this post, thanks for re-sharing.

  16. …just watched “stand by me” (for the first time) on TVO (Toronto) with interviews! Awesome and kind of mysterious in a very weird way that the characters resembled real life…Wil becoming a writer and River…, and other guys too.
    And Keifer’s brother went to University in my class, and I was in one of his movie 12 years ago. Life is like a dream indeed.

  17. What a skewed perspective time gives us when we compare & contrast with our children, ourselves and our own parents:
    Equally scary in my book is thinking about the thirtysomething year old mom & dad of mine, and how I remember thinking of/about/up-to them as a kid. And now, inhabiting a thirtysomething year old body & life myself, and what a reality check this age/life is: I’m a mortal, making mistakes left and right. But back then, when I was 10 or whatever, those near-40 year olds were a) damn OLD and b) practically Gods of knowledge/abilities.
    And I have to laugh at my damn fool (younger) self. And wonder what I’ll think, 30 years from now, looking back on that damn fool of a thirtysomething who is me (now), who thought life was awe-inspiring THEN. With any luck, this website will be eternally archived, and I’ll be able to read my old damn fool words.
    [*waves* hi, future self!! Send winning lotto numbers please!!]

  18. What a wonderful idea for a post. Trully inspirational and also a good warning to younger people. I can imagine feeling just as nervous and freaked out just WATCHING some body doing something like that (and I’m a teenager). However, it does make for an amazing conversational piece. Also very inspirational writing! With a fabulous writing style- genius!

  19. I’m assuming you don’t read through all your tweets, so I’m commenting here to make myself (and the others who were also upset) heard.
    Your life philosophy is “Don’t be a dick” and yet yesterday, you tweeted “I’m not entirely sure what’s athletic about an “athletic cut” XXXL shirt.”
    It is possible to be athletic while overweight. Fat people DO go exercise, and I’m assuming would prefer to be clothed while they do so. Seeing as for women, the average size in the US is a 12 and most stores don’t carry much above a 14, practically half of the women in the country have a difficult time finding clothing and would be grateful the store you were in DOES carry larger sizes (I don’t know the equivalent stats for men). Also, weight is not an absolute measure of health as can be seen in the graph on this website:
    Besides that, body snarking is definitely dick-y behavior. Unless you consider fat people to be less than human and therefore not deserving protection under your “Don’t be a dick” law.

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