Category Archives: From The Vault

From the Vault: respect yourself

This was originally written a little over a year ago, but it just came across my radar from a person on Twitter. Because I think maybe it’ll land on someone who needs to hear it (or could otherwise benefit from hearing it), I’m reposting it now, From The Vault.

Laws of Modern Man 233

I posted this on Twitter earlier this week, because I believe it’s good advice, but about 1 in 20 or so replies accused me of being selfish or narcissistic, or — worst of all — an Objectivist.

I’m not a big fan of getting into “Someone is wrong on the Interent,” but I wanted to clarify a little bit in a way that Twitter does not allow.

What I get out of this quote is this: if there is a toxic person in your life who does nothing but bring you down and hurt you, then you should respect yourself enough to remove that person from your life. Life is too short to maintain toxic and negative relationships.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t make an effort to work on building and maintaining positive, healthy, fulfilling relationships. It doesn’t mean that you don’t make an effort to be kind and generous and just take take take. It means that if you’re constantly “making up” or something like that with a person, you’re not in a healthy, fulfilling relationship. You’re in a toxic relationship, and time you spend maintaining toxic relationships is time wasted that could be spent — invested — into relationships that bring you joy and make you a better person.

Know and recognize the difference between healthy and toxic relationships, positive and negative people, and respect — and love — yourself enough to choose the ones that make you happy and inspire you to grow as much as you possibly can. People who drag you down because it makes them feel better about themselves are not worth your time.

Where I think people may have interpreted this as selfish or narcissistic is in the clumsy wording of people or activities “serving” you. I’d take people out of that portion of the advice and apply it directly to the forehead.

Or, you know, just apply it to the “activities” part and think about where you’re investing your time and energy — your most precious and limited resource — and what yo’ure getting back from it.

Mostly, though, this quote encapsulates advice I’ve given my children and applied to my own life: respect yourself enough to leave a romantic or platonic or business relationship that is causing you more harm than good. To borrow a quote from Green Day: “You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right.”

“in defence of nerds”

The year is 1994. I am 21 years-old, and though I’m convinced I’m so mature, I’m having a hard time finding my way out of a 10×10 room with one door and a map. I’m struggling to figure out who I am, what’s important to me, and what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve spent some time working for NewTek (making really embarrassing videos), and while I’m very proud of the work I’ve contributed to the Video Toaster 4000, something just doesn’t feel exactly right in my life. I’m not sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m adrift in a sea of post-teenage confusion, and I’m profoundly immature. Luckily, I am self-aware enough to know how little I know, so I’ve been attempting to educate myself about the world. I’ve been reading philosophy books, because that seems like something smart, insightful people do … but I’ve gotten wrapped up in Beyond Good and Evil and become something of an obnoxious fucking intellectual.

I will eventually grow out of it, but at this moment, in 1994, I’m dealing with the aftermath of being this guy for my entire life to this point, and it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s pretty goddamn painful, but I don’t know how to talk about it or deal with it, so I project this aura of overconfidence that, in retrospect, is pretty embarrassing.

Yet something important happens at this moment in 1994, and it happens on a Star Trek cruise in Alaska. It will change my life, set me on a long and meandering course out of the sea of uncertainty and toward the man I will eventually become. It happens because I find out I am expected to perform with the other actors on the cruse in a talent show, and I am forced to confront the reality that I don’t have any talents beyond acting, and I’m not sure I’m even very good at that.

So I take a walk around the deck of this ship, and instead of pretending to be deep in thought like usual, I actually think. I really think about who I am and what’s important to me, and wonder what I can contribute to this talent show. Honestly? I’m terrified. I feel like a fraud. I wonder if there’s a way I can just sneak out of this thing and not be part of it. Then I remember that I’m on a boat and the water around me is very cold. I keep walking past Star Trek fans — very nice people, every last one of them — and forcing a smile, with some occasional small talk. I’m afraid someone will ask me what my plans are for the talent show, but nobody does.

I don’t remember exactly how I got there, but I eventually found myself alone in the ship’s library. It was quiet, peaceful. I sat in a comfortable chair and looked out the window at the breathtaking Alaskan coastline.

What am I going to do? How can I do anything as entertaining as the other actors? René Auberjonois is going to sing a song from Beauty and the Beast, for fuck’s sake! I hate myself! Why did I leave Star Trek? Why did I do Liar’s Club? Why did I do The Curse? Why can’t I do something better than Stand By Me? Why aren’t I famous and successful? Why am I living in Kansas instead of LA? What am I doing with my life?

I sat there for a long time, wallowing in self pity and self loathing, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, I had an idea.

I write stories from time to time, and they’re not all that bad. Maybe I could write an essay… 

I jumped out of the chair, grabbed a few sheets of paper from an empty table nearby, and wrote across the top of it:

In Defence of Nerds by Wil Wheaton

I started where all 21 year-olds who think they’re clever and insightful start an essay: a dictionary definition.

Nerd – (nurd) n. slang. 1. a stupid, irritating, ineffectual or unattractive person.

Yep, that’s me.

I continued to write for three pages, philosophically pontificating the titular defense (oh, excuse me, I’m very cultured so I use the British spelling - defence) of nerds. What I didn’t know at the time and didn’t realize until just now is that I was writing both a defense and defiant declaration of who I was. For three pages, I defined myself by the things that were important to me — being a nerd and loving nerd things — instead of allowing myself to be defined by who I was — a former child actor who was struggling to find his ass with both hands.

When I finished writing, I felt pretty good about myself and what I’d written. I felt empowered. I felt a little less lame. The talent show I had been dreading couldn’t come soon enough, so I could take the stage and prove to the world that I was more than just a former child actor who had quit Star Trek and was now regretting it. (This may sound familiar to those of you who have read Just A Geek.)

I was on near the end of the program, if I remember correctly. I tucked my pages into my copy of Beyond Good and Evil (because, you see, I had to impress everyone with my deep understanding of Nietzsche, who was relevant to the essay, for, uh, reasons) and walked up onto the stage.

“I hate talent shows,” I began with self-deprecating humor, “because they remind me how singularly talented I actually am.”

Some laughter came out of the audience, and I finished introducing myself. I began reading my essay. I can’t recall specifically how the entire thing unfolded — it was almost 20 years ago, after all — but I do recall that it went well, that the audience enjoyed it.

I ended with: “…I will remind my critics that Albert Einsten, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates are all nerds and non-conformists.” I paused dramatically. “My name is Wil Wheaton  - and I am a Nerd.”

In my memory, which I want to make extremely clear is not entirely reliable, the audience went crazy with applause, even though I’d had the audacity to compare myself to Einstein, Hawking, and Gates. Ah, the blind arrogance and surety of the 21 year-old philosopher, right?

In the years that followed, I’d occasionally think back to this day in 1994 when I wrote and performed something in public for the first time. I would wonder if it was as good as I remembered or as bad as I feared. I looked for the essay whenever I moved, but I never found it.

Until this weekend.

Going through my garage, clearing out space to build a homebrewery in there, I opened boxes that I haven’t opened since 1995 when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own. Those boxes were mostly filled with books that I didn’t want or need, and they painted a clear picture of who I was back then: lots of SF and Fantasy books, how-to guides on programming in C++, every book Henry Rollins had written up to that point, volume after volume of William Burroughs and some of the Beat writers. There were books on film and acting, and a large number of philosophy books. Among the philosophy books was Beyond Good And Evil.

“Ugh,” I thought to myself, “I know why I haven’t looked in these boxes in years. I was such an insufferable douchebag back then. I should have listened more and talked less.”

I grabbed the book and tossed it into the donation box. It landed on its front, with its spine facing me. I turned back to the box I was emptying, and my eye caught some pieces of paper, folded up and shoved into the book, like a bookmark.

I slowly turned back and looked at them for a long time, not sure I wanted to see what 1994 me had to say, but very sure that I had no choice. I slowly reached out for the book and picked it up. I turned it over, cringed, and pulled out the papers. I unfolded them and saw “In Defence of Nerds by Wil Wheaton

Holy. Shit.

I sat down and read the entire thing. It’s … well, it’s written by the 21 year-old I’ve described above.

I kept it, and I scanned it this morning because it’s something I’d like to make sure I have forever.

Would you like to see it?

Here it is:

It’s not as good as I remember it, but it’s not as bad as I feared. It’s the very best 21 year-old me could do, and I’m proud of him for taking the chance, facing the fear of being laughed off the stage, and speaking passionately about something that mattered to him (that still matters to me).

I’m glad that, on that day in 1994, I set aside pretending to think about things and actually thought about things. It was a small but important step toward finding my way into the life I now have. In fact, if I looked around at the foundation upon which I built my adult life, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that essay awfully close to the keystone.

From the Vault: Matt LeBlanc, Vampires, and Me

I saw on Twitter that an episode I did of the old series Monsters was on Chiller channel today (You can also see it on the YouTubes: Part One; Part Two). Here’s a story I wrote about it my column in the LA Weekly in 2008:

Super Fun Happy Slide: Reflections on an Acting Career

I spent the first two thirds of my life working as a full-time actor, but about five years ago, my primary focus shifted from acting to writing. A funny thing happened on my way to being a full-time writer, though: I started working a lot as an actor, both on camera (CSICriminal Minds) and with my voice (Teen TitansLegion of Superheroes). This has lead to a pretty standard question when I do interviews: “What do you like more, acting or writing?”

“It’s a lot like asking a parent which child they love more,” goes my standard response, “the truth for me is that I love both of my children for different reasons, and I don’t think it’s possible for me to love one more than the other. However, it is impossible for me to imagine my life without them in it.”

My acting career has spanned just a few months shy of thirty years. During it, I’ve worked with awesome people, complete douchebags, famous people who were intimidating, famous people who were gracious, famous people who were on their way down, and soon-to-be famous people who were on their way up. This week, I thought it would be fun to combine my actor side with my writer side, and tell a story about one of those people.

In 1990, I did an episode of the syndicated television series Monsters. The show was a lot of fun to work on, and though it’s not one of the the more memorable entries on my resume, the experience I had while shooting it was. The episode was called “A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites” and I played a teenager who is convinced that the neighborhood barbers are vampires. Nobody believes him, so he convinces his friend to join him in some casual late night breaking and entering to get a closer look inside the barbershop, where he hopes to find irrefutable evidence that will ensure he gets the girl, who is never seen or implied, but was an important part of my motivation.

Shortly after they get inside, the barbers show up, reveal in the usual manner that the damn kids were right all along, and strap our heroes into barber chairs, where vampirelarity ensues … with one of the trademark Monsters twists: instead of drinking their victims’ blood, they collect and feed it to a horrible monster who lives in the basement. The show ends with the the two kids, now adults, working in the same barbershop and serving the same hideous master, in the same manner.

As far as the standard “boy meets vampire, boy’s blood is fed by vampire to hideous monster, boy becomes adult minion of hideous monster” story goes, it was pretty good. It also managed to sneak in a subversive message about the importance of breaking the cycle of vampirism, which qualified the episode as “educational” in some Eastern Bloc countries.

Here’s where the story gets weird. The other kid was played by a young actor who was pretty new to Hollywood. Though he would eventually become one of the highest paid actors in prime time, he hadn’t done very much before we worked together, and I was the well-known veteran on the set. His name was Matt LeBlanc; you may have heard of him.

Neither one of is knew that our career trajectories were on decidedly different paths when they intersected, but we liked each other right away, and rather than retreat to our individual dressing rooms when we weren’t filming, we hung out like old friends, and in the course of getting to know each other, we discovered that we both liked Monty Python, MST3K, and Zucker Brothers movies.

One Friday morning, he asked me, “Did you see The Simpsons last night?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t watch The Simpsons.”

He looked surprised. “Dude, it’s exactly the kind of show you’d like.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve watched it a couple of times, and I thought it was funny when it was part of the Tracy Ullman show, but I just don’t think it works for a full half hour.” I was 18 at the time, and due to my vast experience in life, the universe and everything, I was certain that The Simpsons wouldn’t last more than two seasons. (Someday, I’ll tell you how I also predicted that nobody would remember Nirvana after Smells Like Teen Spirit, or thatArrested Development would be on the air forever. Ahem.)

Matt turned to face me, put down his script, and for the next twenty minutes, reenacted the entirety of the previous night’s episode, a rerun from the first season titled “The Crepes of Wrath.”

“They send Bart to France, where he gets stuck working at a vineyard. They make him sleep with a donkey, they put antifreeze in the wine … it’s really terrible. But there’s this part where he picks a grape,” he stood up, and held an imaginary grape between his fingers. “And then he looks around …”

Matt looked to his right, then to his left, the grin that he’d trademark four years later beginning to stretch across his face. “They cut away from him, and show that there’s nobody around,” he held his hands in front of his face, pantomiming a camera panning from side to side. “But when he tries to put it in his mouth, a hand shows up from nowhere and smacks him in the back of the head!” He started to giggle, “and then the French guy goes, don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!”

His fake French accent was hilarious, and we both giggled like idiots for several minutes. For the rest of the episode, whenever we were supposed to be serious or focused, Matt would catch my eye and quietly say “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and I would crack up. I never ratted him out, even though the director grew tired of my seeming inability to keep it together when I was supposed to be skulking around the barbershop, or watching my precious bodily fluids flow down tubes into the gaping maw of some nameless horror.

On the final day of production, we traded phone numbers and planned to stay in touch, but when we didn’t have working on Monsters in common, we returned to our regular lives and never got together to hang out and watch The Simpsons together.

A few years passed, and one night my friend and I watched an episode of this new show,Friends. I wanted to watch our Ren & Stimpy compilation on VHS, but there was a girl involved and … well, you know how those things go.

I recognized Matt as soon as I saw him. “Hey,” I said, “See the guy who plays Joey? That’s the guy who convinced me to watch The Simpsons! We worked together on Monsters. Cool!”

I was genuinely excited for him. We’d only worked together for a week, but I liked him a lot. He was such a kind person, so guileless and so excited to be working as an actor, it was like one of the good guys – somebody who actually deserved success – had made it.

Life is rarely comfortable for anyone who hopes to be a full-time actor. It’s intensely competitive, unreliable, and totally unpredictable. While some will get to grab the brass ring and never let go, most of us spend our entire careers watching fate dance right up to us, seductively unzip its top just enough to get us excited, and then laugh as it dances away with a different partner. It’s like Lucy with the football, and it sucks. But there are moments on the set, when a guy you just met puts on a hilarious fake French accent and says, “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and you collapse into giggles that you can viscerally recall fifteen years later. Those moments are priceless, and even though they don’t put food on the table or open up any casting office doors, they’re a big part of why I keep coming back to the dance.

From The Vault: the nights are darker and longer than they were a week ago

My soundtrack to yesterday was a collection of essential 1990s ambient music from Woob, FAX Label, and Global Communication, and Deep Space Network.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and was delighted to discover that there is a new (to me) Woob album, which should be embedded here:

And this is as good a time as any to cut and paste part of an old post I wrote about ambient music in 2008:

I’m always happy to share this type of music with people, and if I have an opportunity to turn people on to music that really opened my mind (without the assistance from any chemical or mind-altering substances, I always feel compelled to add) I always seize it.

 

I’ll point those of you who are interested to a portion of a post I made in 2005 (my god, how is it that it simultaneously feels so long ago and so recent to me?) about ambient music. The “it” I refer to is an ambient song I made in GarageBand called Lakeside Shadow:

 

If you like it, you’ll probably like some of the artists who influenced me over the years: Woob (especially 1194, and especially the track strange air) Dedicated (especially Global Communication, also called 76 14), and Solitaire (especially Ritual Ground). Also, Instinct Records (still alive) andSilent Records (sadly, tragically, defunct since 1996) released an amazing number of genre-defining ambient discs in the 90s. And now, just to prove how hardcore I am, I’m going to throw out Pete Namlook, and the FAX Label, but their stuff is far more experimental than the rest of my list, and isn’t what I’d use to introduce a new listener to Ambient music.

 

Finally, if you can find it, Silent Records put out an incredible record called Earth to Infinity (I think in 1994) which was pulled shortly after it was released, due to some sampling issues. I think it’s one of the greatest ambient recordings of all time, and don’t ask me for it because I’m not going to jail for you, Chachi.

 

I think I could have said “incredible” a few more times. Allow me to emphatically pulverize this dead horse deep into the ground: if you only get two ambient records in your whole life, they should be 1194 from Woob and Earth to Infinity (holy shit there are two available from Amazon). If you can only get three, add 76:14, and thank me before you touch the monolith and journey beyond the infinite.

 

Okay, as I said in 2005, most of my ambient CDs are from Silent, Instinct, and Caroline, and I have a metric assload of FAX recordings that I don’t listen to very much any more. If I were to expand on the artists and albums I mentioned three years ago into a list of essentials, I would add Pelican Daughters‘ breathtaking record BlissConsciousness III (orLunar Phase) by Heavenly Music Corporation, and the 2295 compilation from em:t.

 

If you’re intrigued, and want to know what some of this stuff sounds like without waiting, please go directly to Magnatune, and fire up their ambient mix. They’ve got artists over there, like Robert Rich and Falling You, who make truly incredible music. (I really think I need to say incredible and really more. Really.) Soma FM has magnificent downtempo and ambient streams, as well. Groove Salad and Dronezone rarely disappoint.

 

The thing to understand about ambient, though, if you’ve never heard it before, is that it’s slow and deliberate. It takes its time. It doesn’t work in the car, and it doesn’t work if your brain is cranked up to eleven. It’s best enjoyed when you can relax, and let it fill the room around you as you slowly sink into it and out of yourself, like you’ve stepped into a giant gelatinous cube.

 

Hrm. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. Go ahead and fill in your own: “______________.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.

So there you go. As the weather changes, the leaves begin to fall, maybe something here will help you through the nights that are darker and longer than they were a week ago.

Treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.

In 2001, blogs were very new things. In fact, as much more time was spent arguing talking about what blogs even were, and where they fit into the media landscape than was spent actually, you know, writing in them. In fact, I don't even think the word "blogging" existed back then, and whenever it arrived on the scene, it was used pejoratively to describe the equally-distasteful "bloggers" who were on the verge of not just threatening the status quo, but disrupting and then changing it forever.

I read a lot of blogs (many of them were just called online journals or something similar), so when I made my first stupid website at Geocities (RIP) called Where's My Burrito, I put a blog in there, right next to my hit counter and guest book.

My first entry in that blog looks something like this:

So the votes are officially in.

Out of the total of 4 votes I got, all of them said it would be cool to have an online journal, so here it is.

Extra special thanks go to loren who directed me to blogger, a website that will hopefully make this whole weblog (the cool kids call it a “blog”) easy and painless.

I’m off now to make dinner for the family. You know what we’re having tonight?

Burritos. No shit.

That was posted on July 24, 2001. Goddamn, that seems like an eternity ago.

The next day, I wrote this:

My birthday is this Sunday, and we’re having the carpets cleaned this morning.
And my cat, Sketch, ran out of the house, and we can’t find him.
Sucks.

And then, later, this:

Okay, you can all stop worrying. We found Sketch. He was behind the couch.
Carpets are drying, and the yard is getting clean! Whee!

Those two posts are as hilarious to me as anything I've ever posted on Twitter, and now that I look at them again, they're similar to most of the stupid things I post on Twitter, so there's that.

Shortly after I started that blog, I got even more help from loren, and after an intense month of study, trial, and error (mostly error), I made my very own website at wilwheaton.net.

I announced it in the usual fashion:

The New Site Is Open!

Holy crap!! In 6 weeks, I’ve gone from knowing nothing about HTML and using the lame Yahoo! PageBuilder, to building my own site, using php and modifying entire scripts.

This weblog will no longer be updated. Go to the new weblog, and see what’s up!

I used Grey Matter for the blog, becoming an unintentional stress tester when the existence of my blog was discovered by Fark, Metafilter, and Slashdot.

Grey Matter couldn't handle the load, so when I discovered Movable Type, I switched to that software, and it took veyr good care of me for years, through a lot of ups and downs, through my entire journey from The Guy Who Used To Be Wesley Crusher to the person I am today.

Then, in 2006, I blew it all up:

Way back in September of last year, I attempted to upgrade Movable Type, the blogging software that powers WWdN. I also attempted to move a few thousand entries and hundreds of thousands of comments into a newly-created (and faster) MySQL database.

And, uh, I broke it.

Actually, I didn’t break it. Someone who left a comment broke it when they used a seemingly random string of characters to indicate a break in their comment. Unbeknownst to me and them, it was the same string of characters MT used to indicate the end of an entry and its associated comments. When MT was moving all the data into its new (did I mention faster?) database, it came to that string of characters, and said to itself, “Oh boy! I get to start a new entry now! Let’s see, what’s the TITLE of that entry?”

Look . . . look . . . look . . .

“Uh-oh, there’s no TITLE. I’d better look some more.”

Look . . . look . . . look . . .

“Yeah, it’s still not there. Well, I don’t know what the next entry is TITLEd, so I’m going to just barf all over the server now, and fail. I’m sure one of the Users I heard about in TRON will figure this out and fix it quickly. There’s no way my User, Wil, would stay in some backup blog for six months!”

Ha! Stupid smug software. I’ve been in Exile for nine months! Who’s laughing now, jerk? 

Who's laughing, indeed.

Well, I landed here in Exile, where I've stayed for over six years, because I'd reached a point in my life where just writing was more important to me than the software and publishing platform I used to do it.

I've been very happy here, mostly because TypePad has worked very well for me, and because these have been some of the best years of my life (hooray for hard work paying off!)… but there were these moments when I'd suddenly and unexpectedly feel sad about WWdN. I'd miss the URL, and I'd miss the satisfaction that came with knowing that it was mine, that it was something I made (mostly) myself.

So I started working on stuff and things, and after a few days of not-very-intense and stupidly easy work, I taught myself WordPress. I installed it on my server. I imported all my blog entries. I messed around with some themes and basic design things. I installed plugins and widgets and made it look like something that didn't totally suck. There's still a little bit of fiddly under-the-hood server stuff that needs to happen, but it's pretty much the way I want it.

So, this weekend, after way, way too many years (or, maybe, now that I think of it, exactly the right number of years) in exile, I’m finally returning home.

Wow. Typing that made me feel all the feels. I wasn't expecting that.

I'm going home.

Yep. It happened again.

Well.

*clears throat*

If you read my blog through an RSS subscription, you won't notice any changes (It's feeds.feedburner.com/wwdn), but you'll now go to WIL WHEATON dot NET to comment instead of WIL WHEATON dot NET: in Exile.

Woah. More feels.

Um. So. Yeah. I'm sure there will be a few bumps along the way while I figure out handling comments and stuff, but I'm sure we'll find a way to get through it together.

My TODO list for WWdN looks something like this:

  • Get some of those nifty little icons for Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, etc., and put them up in the corner with links to their relevant accounts.
  • Maybe rotate header images, because why not?
  • Have a homebrew
  • Potentially set a fixed page as the “front page” of WWdN, which has an excerpt from the most recent blog post, as well as dynamically updating feeds from Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, G+, etc.

WordPress veterans: Any advice you have for a WordPress noob is most welcome.

Everyone who first found me at WWdN, followed me to Exile, and plans to follow me back home*: I just can’t thank you enough for the years of support and encouragement you’ve given me. I sincerely hope it’s been worth it for you, because it’s meant a lot to me.

To everyone else out there: The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.

*damn, all these feels are feely.

From the Vault: Sparks McGee

This was brought to my attention by a fellow Redditor in this thread.

I'd completely forgotten about it, which I can blame on it being written almost ten years ago.

Holy shit. Ten years ago.

Enjoy:

To: < [email protected]>
Subject: star trek

Ya know the writers could have solved that whole image problem of Wesley Crusher by

 

A. Giving him a cool name like "Sparks Mcgee" and a peculiar accent, possibly a tattoo

B. Having him kill people randomly on the ship for no apparent reason.

C. Giving him a cool car to drive around in, like a 1978 Trans Am or one of them Dukes of Hazard cars

D. Giving him a cool catch phrase like "I got a course you can plot"

E. Wear a cowboy hat

Then like Picard would say "Number One, where the devil is Sparks Mcgee?"
Then Number one would say "In his muscle car sir", then everyone would laugh except Worf who would say some shit about honor or something. Then people at home would think, "Man that Sparks Mcgee sure is cool, a real rebel."

Internet, I would like to see Sparks McGee Cosplay at the many, many conventions I'm attending between now and the end of the year. Make it happen, Internet. I know you can do it. I believe in you.

From the Vault: Thank you for giving us endless worlds to explore, Gary Gygax. Rest in peace.

This was originally written and posted in 2008:

I just found out that Gary Gygax died. He was only 69.

I failed my save vs. stunning blow, so forgive me if this isn't the most polished thing in the world.

For most geeks, RPGs are a huge part of who we are, and many of the games I've loved — and continue to love — probably wouldn't exist as they do without Gary Gygax. The news reports are calling him "the father of D&D," but he was really the father of all role playing games, whether they were played with dice and paper, a deck of cards, or on a computer. Yeah, wargames existed before D&D, and fantasy existed before D&D, but D&D is the game that introduced fantasy gaming to my generation.

I didn't know him, and never met him, but his impact upon my life can't be overstated.

To honor his passing, I'd like to share an excerpt from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Geek, from Happiest Days of Our Lives:

December, 1983

I sat on the floor in Aunt Val’s house and opened up her Christmas present to me. It was a red box with a really cool-looking dragon on the front of it. Inside, there were a few books, some dice, a map, and a crayon to color in the dice.

“That’s a game that I hear lots of kids like to play, Willow,” she said. “It’s dragons and wizards and those things you liked from The Hobbit. The back says you use your imagination, and I know what a great imagination you have.” My brother played with Legos and my cousins played with handheld electronic games. I felt a little gypped.

“Wow,” I said, masking my disappointment. “Thanks, Aunt Val!”

Later, while the other kids played with Simon and Mattel Electronic Football, I sat near the fireplace and examined my gift. It said that I could be a wizard or a fighter, but there weren’t any pieces that looked like that. There were a lot of weird dice, but I had to color in the numbers. That seemed silly, but at least it was something to do, so I grabbed the black crayon and rubbed it over the pale blue dice, just like the instructions said.

Aunt Val (who was my favorite relative in the world throughout my entire childhood and right up until she died a few years ago) walked into the living room. “What do you think, Willow?”

“I colored the dice,” I said, and showed her the result. “But I haven’t read the book yet.”

She patted my leg. “Well, I hope you like it.” She moved to the other side of the room, where my cousin Jack poked at a Nintendo Game and Watch.

I opened the Player’s Guide and began to read.

February, 1984

It was afternoon PE in fifth grade, and I was terrified. I ran and jumped and ducked, surrounded by a jeering crowd of my classmates. The PE teacher did nothing to stop the attack – and, in fact, encouraged it.

“Get him!” someone yelled as I fell to the asphalt, small rocks digging into my palms. I breathed hard. Through my adrenaline-fueled flight-or-fight response, the world slowed, the jeering faded, and I wondered to myself why our playground was just a parking lot and why we had to wear corduroy pants in the middle of a Southern California heat wave. Before I could offer any answers, a clear and loud voice spoke from within my head. “Hey,” it said. “You’d better get up and move, or you’re dead.”

I nodded my head and looked up in time to see the red playground ball, spinning in slow motion, as the word “Voit” rotated into view. Pain exploded across my face and a mighty cheer erupted from the crowd. The PE teacher blew her whistle.

I don’t know how I managed to be the last kid standing on our team. I usually ran right to the front of the court so I could get knocked out quickly and (hopefully) painlessly before the good players got worked up by the furor of battle and started taking head shots, but I’d been stricken by a bout of temporary insanity – possibly caused by the heat – on this February day, and I’d actually played to win the game, using a very simple strategy: run like hell and hope to get lucky.

I blinked back tears as I looked up at Jimmie Just, who had delivered the fatal blow. Jimmie was the playground bully. He spent as much time in the principal’s office as he did in our classroom, and he was the most feared dodgeball player at the Lutheran School of the Foothills.

He laughed at me, his long hair stuck to his face in sweaty mats, and sneered. “Nice try, Wil the Pill.”

I picked myself up off the ground, determined not to cry. I sucked in deep breaths of air through my nose.

Mrs. Cooper, the PE teacher, walked over to me. “Are you okay, Wil?” she asked.

“Uh-huh,” I lied. Anything more than that and I risked breaking down into humiliating sobs that would follow me around the rest of the school year, and probably on into sixth grade.

“Why don’t you go wash off your face,” she said, not unkindly, “and sit down for a minute.”

“Okay,” I said. I walked slowly across the blacktop to the drinking fountains. Maybe if I really took my time, I could run out the clock and I wouldn’t have to play another stupid dodgeball game.

January, 1984

Papers scattered across my bed appeared to be homework to the casual observer, but to me they were people. A thief, a couple of wizards, some fighters: a party of adventurers who desperately wanted to storm The Keep on the Borderlands. But without anyone to guide them, they sat alone, trapped in the purgatory of my bedroom, straining behind college-ruled blue lines to come to life.

I tried to recruit my younger brother to play with me, but he was 7, and more interested in Monchichi. The kids in my neighborhood were more interested in football and riding bikes, so I was left to read through module B2 by myself, wandering the Caves of Chaos and dodging Lizard Men alone.

February, 1984

I washed my face and drank deeply from the drinking fountain. By the time I made it back to the benches along the playground’s southern edge, I’d lost the urge to cry, but my face radiated enough heat to compete with the blistering La Crescenta sun.

I sat down near Simon Teele, who, thanks to the wonders of alphabetization, ended up with me and Harry Yan (the school’s lone Asian kid) on field trips, on fire drills, and in chapel. Simon was taller than all of us, wore his hair down into his face, and really kept to himself. He was reading an oversized book that sort of looked like a textbook, filled with charts and tables.

We weren’t officially friends, but I knew him well enough to make polite conversation.

“Hey,” I said. “Why don’t you have to play dodgeball?”

“Asthma,” he said.

“Lucky,” I said. “I hate dodgeball.”

“Everyone hates dodgeball,” he said, “except Jimmie Just.”

“Yeah,” I said, relieved to hear someone else say out loud what I’d been thinking since fourth grade.

“Hey,” I said. “What are you reading?”

He held up the book and I saw its cover: a giant statue, illuminated by torches, sat behind an archway. Two guys were on its head, prying loose one of its jeweled eyes, as a group of people stood at the base. One was clearly a wizard; another was obviously a knight.

“Player’s Handbook,” he said. “Do you play D&D?”

I gasped. According to our ultra-religious school, D&D was Satanic. I looked up for teachers, but none were nearby. A hundred feet away on the playground, another game of dodgeball was underway. I involuntarily flinched when I heard the hollow pang! of the ball as it skipped off the ground.

“You’re going to get in trouble if you get caught with that,” I said.

“No, I won’t,” he said. “If I just keep it turned upside down, they’ll never see it. So do you play or not?”

“I have the red box set,” I said, “and a bunch of characters, but I don’t have anyone to play with.”

“That’s Basic,” he said. “This is Advanced.”

“Oh.”

“But if you want, you could come over to my house this weekend and we could play.”

I couldn’t believe my good luck. With a dodgeball to the face, Fate put me on the bench next to the kid who, over the next few months, helped me take my first tentative steps down the path to geekdom. He had a ton of AD&D books: the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which had a truly terrifying demon on the cover, and would result in certain expulsion if seen at school; the Monster Manual, which was filled with dragons; and the Fiend Folio, which not only had demons and devils, but a harpy and a nymph, accompanied by a drawing of a naked woman! with boobs!!

Simon’s parents were divorced, and he lived with his mom in a huge house in La Canada. His room was filled with evidence of a custody Cold War. Too many toys to count littered the floor and spilled out of the closet, but even though we were surrounded by Atari and Intellivision, GI Joe and Transformers, we had D&D fever, and the only prescription was more polyhedral dice.

Of all the things I do that make me a geek, nothing brings me as much joy as gaming. It all started with the D&D Basic Set, and today it takes an entire room in my house to contain all of my books, boxes, and dice.

Thank you for giving us endless worlds to explore, Gary Gygax. Rest in peace.

 

From the Vault: “…because Next Generation FUCKING RULES!”

I'm digging into The Vault for stories to tell next week when I perform on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2: The Encrazening, and I caught myself reading this story, which I wrote and published in Dancing Barefoot, when I was a baby writer almost ten years ago. 

This is from The Saga of SpongeBob Vega$ Pants (or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Trek) also: Put Some Thought Into What You Name Things, Kids, Because You May Find Yourself Telling a Story With A Stupid Title Ten Years After You Wrote It.

I sit at my table, uncap my sharpie, and put on my gameface. 

My pen hand is strong. I'm ready to be witty, charming and friendly. Although the actual number of autographs I've signed over the years is probably close to half a million, I am ready to make these fans feel like the autograph I'm currently signing is the only one I've signed all day, maybe the only one I've signed in my whole life.

Over the years, I've learned something from this experience: it's never about the signature. It's about that brief moment, that brief encounter with a Star Trek cast member, that is so important to the fans. That 30 seconds or so of hopefully undivided attention is what they're really paying for, and I always do my best to make sure they get their money's worth. Contrary to popular belief, sitting at a table signing hundreds of autographs for several hours without a break is hard. It's not just mindlessly scrawling my name; It's stopping and listening to the always excited, sometimes shaking, always sweating, sometimes scary dude who wants to know exactly why I did “X” on episode “Y” and would I please sign his picture in silver, because Marina signed it in gold and now he wants the men in silver and the women in gold, and I hated your character and here are 25 reasons why and I expect an answer for each one of them and I'm not leaving until I'm satisfied.

The fans come down what amounts to an assembly line, stopping at a table, enjoying their 30 seconds of attention and trading a ticket for an autograph. They move to the next table, and repeat.

I personally think that this “assembly line” method, while the only one that really works, has the potential to totally suck for the fans. 

The first one hundred or so who come through the line will get to see a smiling, effusive, friendly actor, and will leave feeling happy and satisfied. Those unlucky ones who are at the end of the line risk seeing actors who are tired, with cramped hands and degraded signatures. 

It is a challenge for me, but I always remind myself that the last fans through the line have paid as much as the first fans, and they've also waited much longer, so they are the ones that I need to give the most attention to when I am the most drained. I know that as I get toward the end of the line, my humor slows down, and my voice fades. I know that I've let down my fair share of people over the years, but I always do my best. 

I see the first fan walking down the hallway, trading tickets and getting signatures from actors. I watch her as she goes table to table. She's not wearing a spacesuit . . . that's a good sign. She has a witty sci-fi T-shirt on. Also a good sign. 

She arrives at my table, and I cheerfully say, “Hi! How are you doing today?!”

“AWFUL! THIS IS THE WORST CONVENTION I HAVE EVER BEEN TO! I HATE DAVE SCOTT! I HATE LAS VEGAS! I HATE THIS CONVENTION!”

Oh boy. This is not the way I'd hoped to start out.

I try to soothe her. “Uhh . . . I think . . . that . . . this convention . . . just started . . . and . . . uhh . . . I'm sure that if you talk to Dave, everyt–”

“DAVE SCOTT IS AN ARROGANT ASSHOLE!”

“Uh . . . yeah . . . well, you see, the thing is, I'm sort of not exactly involved in the planning of this convention, you know? I'm just, like, a guest . . . maybe you could try talk–”

“THIS IS THE MOST FAN-UNFRIENDLY CONVENTION I HAVE EVER BEEN TO!”

And she storms away, without an autograph, without another word.

I look at Marina, who's one table down from me. Angry Fan has stormed past her, too. Marina shrugs, and I make the international sign for “crazy person” by twirling my finger near my temple.

I hear a man clear his throat, and I look up to see a smiling middle-aged face. He has a dark beard, and is dressed as Commander Riker. 

He gives his autograph ticket to the staffer sitting next to me, and asks me to sign his model of the Enterprise D. He thanks me, and moves along.

And so it is in the world of Star Trek conventions. One person will scream at me, and the next will want to give me a hug. A person will walk up dressed in an elaborate Borg costume, and the next person will be dressed in a T-shirt and Dickies, quietly laughing at “all the weirdos.”

For the next three hours, I sign pictures of the young, geeky Wesley Crusher. I sign posters of the teen heartthrob that I'm told I once was. I sign posters that I'm not even on, in silver because everyone else did, accepting the apologies from the poster owners that I'm not on the poster. I always answer with the same joke: “That's okay, you just can't see me, because I'm on this planet here . . .” They laugh and feel good and so do I.

A group of very attractive German girls comes over next, and two of them tell me, in broken English, how much they love me.

I think, Oh yeah, tell me some more, baby. Tell daddy how you love him. Ich bin ein sexmachiner!

What?

I am so sorry. I have no idea where that came from. I apologize.

There are also 20 Japanese kids who've all come over together from Tokyo. They are all smiles and laughter, excited, and having a great time. The girls ask me to write their names on their picture when I sign it, they giggle and bow and blush and thank me, over and over. For a second, I feel like a rock star. 

One of the Japanese kids is a boy, about my height. When he presents his Wesley Crusher action figure for my signature, he tells me, “My friend all say I am you twin!”

He smiles proudly. “We look just the same!”

Last time I checked, I wasn't Japanese, but I'm not about to tell him that. I look at him for a moment and reply, “Dude. You are so right. It's like I'm looking in a mirror!” 

He turns to his friends, says something in Japanese, and they all share an excited murmur. I pick up my pen, and write: “To Hiroyuki, my long lost twin brother: Don't Panic! -Wil Wheaton.”

He thanks me over and over. His smile is so huge, I fear that his face will turn inside out. As he walks away from my table, I feel happy – I've brought joy into this kid's life, just by signing my name and being friendly. It's one of the few perks (or responsibilities, if you will) that comes with celebrity that I truly enjoy.

ϑ ϑ ϑ

 

About 200 or so people into the day, I have one of those memorable “battlefield” experiences; the kind that we Star Trek actors share during a layover in Chicago, after a convention in Cleveland.

I've just finished signing a poster for a 40-ish man who is wearing a spacesuit that is a little to tight across the waist. He's painted his face blue, and donned a white wig topped with antennae, like the Andorians from the original Star Trek. The next person in line is a woman in her 30s, dressed conservatively.

I say hello, and she smiles at me . . . until she sees my T-shirt. Then she becomes hysterical. She points at my shirt and screeches at me, “You are going to hay-ell! You are going to hay-ell!”

“Why am I going to hell, ma'am?” I ask, trying to figure out if she is joking. I am wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of a hand making rock-and-roll devil horns that says, “Keep Music Evil.” I think it's very funny, and it's a nice counter-point to the squeaky-clean image of Wesley Crusher that is so indelibly burned into these people's minds.

“You're wearing that shirt! And that shirt promotes SATAN!”

Okay, she's definitely not joking.

“So I'm going to hell because I'm wearing a shirt? Is that right?” I ask her, patiently.

“Yes! You! Are! Going! To! HAY-ELL!”

“Well, as long as I'm not going where you are, ma'am.”

And she leaves, but not without getting my signature, on her collectible plate, in gold ink, not silver, because John DeLancie signed his in silver, so now silver is the color reserved for “Q.” Nobody else can sign in silver. Not even a captain. Well, maybe Captain Picard, but not Captain Janeway.

I am able to contain my giggles until she is out of ear-shot.

“Is it always like this?” the staffer sitting at my table inquires.

“Nope. Sometimes it's really weird.”

We laugh, and the signing goes on.

And on.

And on.

This next part is from when I went on the stage later that same afternoon. It still makes me laugh.

“I have the limited edition Star Trek Monopoly game.” I say.

“Of course, it's a limited edition of 65 million. But it's extremely valuable, because I got a number under 21 million.”

They laugh. It's funny, because it's true.

I go one better. “Plus, it's got a certificate of authenticity signed by Captain Picard!

“Yes, that's right, my Star Trek Monopoly game, which I've rendered worthless by opening, comes with a certificate of authenticity signed in ink by a fictional character.”

I see a guy in the front row say something to his buddy, and they both nod their heads and laugh.

“Cool thing about the game, though, is that there is a Wesley Crusher game piece in it, and the first time we sat down to play it as a family, Ryan grabbed Wesley and proclaimed, as only an 11-year-old can, 'I'm Wil!! I'm Wil!! Nolan!! I'm all-time Wil!! I call it!!'”

I see some people smile. I start to pace the stage. I'm hitting my stride, and the stories flow out of me.

“One time, when we were renegotiating our contracts, we were all asking for raises.

“We all felt a salary increase was appropriate, because The Next Generation was a hit. It was making gobs of money for Paramount,” (I like that word – gobs) “and we felt that we should share in that bounty.

“Of course, Paramount felt otherwise, so a long and annoying negotiation process began.

“During that process, the producers’ first counteroffer was that, in lieu of a raise, they would give my character a promotion, to lieutenant.”

I pause, and look around. I wrinkle my brow, and gaze upward.

“What? Were they serious?”

A fan hollers, “Yeah! Lieutenant Crusher! Woo!” 

I smile back at him.

“My agent asked me what I wanted to do. I told him to call them back and remind them that Star Trek is just a television show.”

Okay, that was risky to say. It's pretty much the opposite of just a television show to these people, but they giggle.

“I imagined this phone call to the bank,” I mime a phone, and hold it to my ear. “Hi . . . Uh, I'm not going to be able to make my house payment this month, but don't worry! I am a lieutenant now.” I pause, listening to the voice on the other end.

“Where? Oh, on the Starship Enterprise.”

I pause.

“Enterprise D, yeah, the new one. Feel free to drop by Ten Forward for lunch someday. We'll put it on my officer's tab!”

Laughter, and applause. My time is up, and Dave Scott stands at the foot of the stage, politely letting me know that it's time for me to go.

The fans see this, and I pretend to not notice him.

“In 2001, startrek.com set up a poll to find out what fans thought the best Star Trek episode of all time was. The competition encompassed all the series. The nominated episode from Classic Trek was City On The Edge Of Forever. The entry for The Next Generation was Best of Both Worlds Part II. DS9 offered Trials and Tribble-ations, and Voyager weighed in with Scorpion II.”

As I name each show, various groups of people applaud and whistle, erasing any doubt as to what their favorite show is.

“Now, look. I know that Star Trek is just a TV show. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I just said that five minutes ago, but there was no way I was going to let my show lose. It just wasn't going to happen. Especially not to Voyager – er, V'ger, I mean.”

I pause, and look out at the crowd. I wonder if Mr. “V'ger” is out there.

“So I went into my office, sat at my computer for 72 straight hours, and voted for TNG over and over again.

“I didn't eat, and I didn't sleep. I just sat there, stinky in my own filth, clicking and hitting F5, a Howard Hughes for The Next Generation.

“Some time around the 71st hour, my wife realized that she hadn't seen me in awhile and started knocking on the door to see what I was doing. 

“'Nothing! I'm, uh, working!' I shouted through the door. Click, Click, Click . . . 

'I don't believe you! Tell me what you've been doing at the computer for so long!'

“I didn't want her to know what I was doing – I mean, it was terribly embarrassing . . . I had been sitting there, in crusty pajamas, voting in the Star Trek poll for three days.”

Some people make gagging noises, some people “eeww!” But it's all in good fun. They are really along for the ride, now. This is cool.

“She jiggled the handle, kicked at the bottom of the door, and it popped open!”

The audience gasps.

“I hurriedly shut down Mozilla, and spun around in my chair.

“'What have you been doing on this computer for three days, Wil?' she said.”

I look out across the audience, and pause dramatically. I lower my voice and confidentially say, “I was not about to admit the embarrassing truth, so I quickly said, 'I've been downloading porn, honey! Gigabytes of porn!'”

I have to stop, because the ballroom rocks with laughter. It's a genuine applause break! 

“She was not amused. 'Tell me the truth,' she said.

“I sighed, and told her that I'd been stuffing the ballot box in an online Star Trek poll.

“'You are such a dork. I'd have been happier with the porn.'

“I brightened. 'Really?'

“'No,' she said. She set a plate of cold food on the desk and walked out, muttering something about nerds.

“I stayed in that office for another ten hours, just to be sure. When my eyes began to bleed, I finally walked away. It took several weeks of physical therapy before I could walk correctly again, but it was all worth it. Best of Both Worlds Part II won by a landslide.”

I pause dramatically, and the theatre is silent.

“And it had nothing to do with my stuffing the box. It's because Next Generation FUCKING RULES!”

I throw my hand into the air, making the “devil horns” salute that adorns my satanic T-shirt, and the audience leaps to their feet, roaring with applause and laughter.

I can't believe it. I started out so badly, but I got the audience back on my side. I say thank you, give the microphone to Dave Scott, who is now sitting on the stage pointedly checking his watch, and exit, stage left.

 

ϑ ϑ ϑ

 

I'm a very different person now than I was when I wrote it, in every single way that matters (and a lot that probably don't). I cringe a little bit at some of the ways I wrote back then, but it's the best I could do at the time, and I'm proud of it, and the 29 year-old who struggled to write it.

Reading this stuff today made me feel strange, but also good, It's sort of like I was looking in a mirror that held a reflection within it for ten years, but let a little bit out today, just for me.

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.

Sigh.

*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.