Category Archives: From The Vault

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.

From the Vault: An Open Letter to That Guy

ESPN is running a wonderful and heartbreaking documentary called Catching Hell, about Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs in 2003.

If you don't have any idea what that means, you can skip this post.

For the rest of you, here's a repost of something I wrote to him back then, when he was Public Enemy Number One for Cubs fans:

An Open Letter to That Guy

Originally published at WWdN on October 16, 2003

Dear That Guy,

Like you, I am a huge Cubs fan. Like you, I've been telling people "next year! Next Year!" as long as I can remember. Like you, I am crushed that they aren't going to the World Series. Again.

Unlike you, most of Chicago (and the world, really) could give a shit about me. That's where this letter, from some guy you'll never meet and could probably care less about, comes in. See, I think we have a few things in common, and I just wanted to take a minute here and tell you that I think you're getting a bunch of shit that you don't deserve.

I used to be on this big cult TV show that had lots of very passionate fans. Many of those fans absolutely (and irrationally) hated the character I played on that show. Most of them wrote me nasty letters and heckled me whenever I'd show up at one of their events, they never called my house, or tried to hurt me, but I can sort of imagine what you're going through. That thing that makes a sports fan wear only paint and a diaper to a ball game when it's 15 degrees outside? It's the same thing that makes a Star Trek fan wear the same unwashed uniform for 5 days in a row at a big ass con.

I've read that just about every Cubs fan in the world is giving you hell for going after that foul ball. Well, That Guy, last time I checked, baseball fans like to catch foul balls. It's something we do, like paying too much for terrible beer and screaming at a player for not picking up that slider that we're so certain we'd be able to hit if they'd just put our fat asses in the game. Hell, I've been going to 20 or 30 games a season at Dodger Stadium for almost 30 years, and I try to catch a foul ball every single time I'm there. I've even had my hot wife flirt with the teenage bat boy in a pathetic effort to score one. To date, I am still empty-handed. But that bat boy, Jesse, is convinced that my wife's going to leave me just as soon as he gets out of high school.

Anyway, That Guy, enough about me. This is about you.

It's not your fault that the Cubs lost game 6. It's not your fault that Dusty Baker probably left Prior in too long, or that Alex Gonzalez chose game 6 to make his 11th error of the whole freakin' year. It's not your fault the Cubs stranded 7 runners. It's not your fault that they lost game 7. It's not your fault that Kerry Wood, normally one of the best pitchers in baseball, just couldn't get it together in game 7. (That was a sweet fuckin' homerun though, wasn't it?! I was screaming and cheering so loudly I scared both of my dogs!)

In short, it's not your fault the Cubs lost three in a row. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure it's the players fault they lost three in a row. Even Dusty Baker said, "We didn't lose the pennant, the Marlins won it. We were close and the Marlins took it from us, it's as simple as that." You'll notice that he didn't say "That Guy took it from us."

Yep. You know, now that I think about it, I'm positive that it wasn't your fault, and I'm pretty mad at anyone who's giving you shit about the loss.

It's pretty fucked up that those jackals in the news media printed your name, That Guy, and it's even more fucked up that they disclosed your workplace and forced you to change your phone number. But don't quit coaching the little league team, okay? Since you're not a dad, you're probably not coaching that team for your own personal glory, or doing it because it's the only way you know how to relate to your son. You're probably there for those kids, and you're probably having a positive impact on their lives. What are they going to learn if they lose their coach, That Guy?! Think of the children, okay? Don't be a quitter!

Tell you what. You keep coaching that team, and if you ever come to Los Angeles, I'll get some hired goons, and we'll take you out for a beer at one of the best pubs in the city. If anyone tries to fuck with you, those hired goons will kick their punk asses while we exchange high-fives. It will be sweet!

In the mean time, when someone gets in your face about the Cubs losing, you can say, "Hey! Wil Wheaton says back the fuck off!"

When they look confused and say, "Who the hell is Wil Wheaton?" you can just smile and laugh at them, because you know something they don't.

Rock on,

Wil Wheaton
Life-long Cubs Fan, 
living in Los Angeles

My life has changed so much, and gotten so much better, since 2003… I hope that, wherever he is, Steve Bartman can say the same thing.

From the Vault: see this place where stories all ring true

This morning, while driving around town, Anne and I heard Green Grass and High Tides on the radio. It was part of a set of songs with "green" in the title, on account of it being St. Patrick's Day. It's a stretch, but any excuse to play a great song on the radio — especially a song that's nearly 10 minutes long — is fine with me.

After a minute or two, I said, "it feels kind of weird to just listen to this song, and not feel worried about failing out of it before it's over."

"Is this that song from Rock Band?" She asked.

"Yeah."

"I totally remember you and Ryan playing it over and over a couple years ago."

"Well, it's –"

"and over and over"

"I know. It's a really great song," I said, "it's just so … evil … at the end."

We drove on and just listened to it, until there were about three minutes left in the song.

"This is where it gets brutal," I said. In my mind, I could see the bar on the left side of the screen turning yellow, then red. I kept my hands on the wheel and resisted the urge to reflexively activate Overdrive, which we will always call Star Power, no matter what music game we're playing (even DJ Hero, which doesn't make any sense at all.)

I realized that my heart was beating harder than it should have, and I felt flush.

"Oh my god," I said, "I'm getting stressed out! It's like I have Rock Band PTSD!"

"Nice," she said. "You want to slow down?"

"What?"

I looked at the speedometer and realized I was going … a little too fast for the street we were on. I took my foot off the gas and gently applied the brake.

"Whoops."

Speaking of Rock Band and Green Grass and High Tides, here's a story I originally wrote about it in 2008, which is included in the Chapbook I did for GenCon last year, called Games Matter.

Ryan goes back to school in just under 2 weeks, and I've been bugging him to play the Endless Setlist with me on Rock Band before he leaves.

If you're unfamiliar with Rock Band's multiplayer thing, the Endless Setlist is the last thing you unlock in the game when you're playing as a band. It is exactly what it sounds like: a concert featuring all 58 songs that come with the game. It takes about six hours to play if you don't take any extended breaks.

Today, Ryan and I tackled it on expert. He played guitar, and I played bass. It was awesome. We got five stars on pretty much everything for the first 20 or so songs, including three gold stars. I got the authentic strummer thing and 99% on about half of them.

We were seriously having a good time, striking the rock pose, putting our backs together while we jammed through epic songs, bonding through the power of rock.

Then, with five songs left to go, we got to Green Grass and High Tides.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rock Band, this is a fantastic southern rock song by the Outlaws. It's also one of the hardest in the game, and the longest, weighing in at around 10 minutes. It's a song that you don't play as much as survive, and it does its best to really beat you down. If a song could kick you in the junk, this would be it. If this song were a poker game, it would be Razz.

So, after already playing for 5 hours, (and not exactly conserving our energy) we started to play this rock epic, knowing it would be the greatest challenge we'd faced yet.

Our first time through, we failed at 84%. It was entirely my fault for holding my guitar too high and deploying our emergency overdrive when we didn't need it.

"Sorry about that," I said as we lost 360,000 fans. "I blame my guitar."

Ryan looked at me.

"Okay, I blame myself."

Ryan laughed and said it was no big deal. He was confident we'd get it on the next try, and when we started the song, I could see why. He was in the zone, nailing 97% of the first solo. I wanted to holler about how awesome he was, but I felt like it would have been the same as talking to my pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, so I stayed quiet and did my best not to screw things up.

I screwed things up, and we failed the song at 96%. We lost another 360,000 fans, almost wiping out the million we'd picked up when we did the Southern Rock Marathon last week. Compared to the nearly 5 and a half hours we'd spent playing, that 18 minutes wasn't that long, but it sure felt demoralizing, especially because it was, again, entirely my fault we'd failed. See, there's this bass phrase that's repeated over and over and over, and if you're just a tiny bit off (like I was) you're screwed, and . . . well, you get the point.

I dropped my hands to my side and let the guitar hand around my neck. My arms were tired, my legs hurt, and my vision was getting blurry.

"I think I've identified the weak link in our band, and it's me," I said. "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay," Ryan said, "but I think I want to take a break."

"Good idea," I said. "Let's pause this, go out for something to eat, and come back later."

Ryan walked into his room and turned on his shower. I unplugged my guitar so we didn't have to worry about our dogs knocking it down and starting the game again while we were gone.

In my memory, the next few moments happen in slow motion:

  • I pick up Ryan's guitar, the wireless PS2 guitar from GHIII.
  • I hold down the button to get the control screen.
  • The dashboard comes up, and it gives me the option to cancel, turn off the controller, or turn off the system.
  • I click the strum bar to select "turn off the controller."
  • I set the guitar on the ground — carefully — and reach up to click the green fret button.
  • I hear the Xbox beep.
  • I push the button.
  • I realize that the beep was the strum bar clicking one more time when I set the guitar down, selecting "Shutdown the System."
  • The system shuts down, taking all of our progress with it.
  • Time resumes to normal. For the next 120 seconds, I use every curse word I know, until my throat is raw. It takes everything I have not to grab the guitar and get all Pete Townshend on it.

Ryan came out of his room.

"What happened?" He said.

I told him.

What happened next was astonishing to me: Ryan didn't freak out. He didn't get upset. Instead, he told me, "Calm down, Wil. It's just a game. We can do it again."

I was still really upset. It was an accident, yes, but it was my fault. In my head, I kept replaying all the different ways I could have powered down his guitar that were more careful. I really felt like an asshole, because I screwed up twice and caused us to fail both times. I felt like an asshole, because I screwed up and lost all the progress we'd made. Mostly, though, I felt like an asshole because I really wanted to accomplish this feat with my son. I really wanted to have that memory.

What I got, though, was better than what I'd hoped for. I got to see Ryan exhibit one of the key values I'd raised him with: he kept everything in perspective, and found all the good things in the experience, like the gold stars we scored, the fun we had playing all the other songs, and the time we spent together. He reminded me that it's not about winning, it's about playing the game.

If you've read my blog for any amount of time, I'm sure you can appreciate how great it felt to hear my words and my values come out of my son's mouth.

I don't write about my boys very often these days. Their friends read my blog, and they sometimes read my blog. They're not little kids any more and I feel like it's not cool to talk about everything we do together with the Internet . . .

. . . but in this case, I'm making an exception.

You can hear me read this story on Radio Free Burrito Episode 20, if you're into that sort of thing.

It’s like there’s a monkey on my back. A gaming monkey, and he’s rattling dice in my ear.

One more From The Vault, because I'd completely forgotten about it, and it made me laugh out loud when I read it.

While Anne and I drove down the freeway today, Just Like Heaven came on the radio.

"This was my first CD," I said.

"I know," she said. "You tell me that every time we hear a song from it."

"And one day, you'll hear it, and I won't be here for some reason or another, and you'll wish I was here to tell you."

While we both pondered the macabre nature of that particular thought,
I realized that not only was this album forever linked to my first CD
player, but it also gave me hypernostalgic memories of gaming with my
group of friends in high school.

"I don't know what it is," I said, "but lately, I've wanted to get
together with geeks and do a weekend of serious nonstop gaming."

She glanced over at me. "Oh?"

"Yeah. But this is more than the usual 'I want to play Car Wars'
thing. This is a serious –" I searched for the exact word to describe
the overwhelming longing, approaching psychophysical need to play, and settled on, "Jones. Like an addict, you know?"

I wiggled around in my seat, and faced her, "It's like there's — hey, aren't we taking the 110?"

"Whoops." She said, as she quickly changed lanes.

"It's like there's a monkey on my back. A gaming monkey, and he's rattling dice in my ear."

"Like he's shaking them in a Yahtzee cup?" She said.

"Gamers don't use Yahtzee cups," I said, as patiently as I could.
"It's more like he's holding a bag of dice in his hand." I held my hand
up, and felt the invisible bag in my palm. "And he's rattling the dice
around."

"Is it your bag of dice?" she said.

"Yeah! It's totally my bag of dice!" I paused for a moment, and
added, "but he's not opening it. Because if he opens it, and touches my
dice, I will fucking kill that monkey."

This is totally going into the gaming chapbook for GenCon.

From the Vault: there is more than one thing that makes us who we are

I'm bringing a limited-edition chapbook of gaming stories to GenCon, so Andrew and I have been digging through old entries and columns to put it together. This weekend he found and sent me the following old post, with the note: "Nothing to do with gaming, but it's REALLY short and I think we could both use the reminder from time to time"

He's right. I think we can all use the reminder from time to time.

(Imagine the sound of The Vault opening)

It drove me crazy, during the marketing and promotion of Just A Geek,
that I couldn't convince the publicity department to stop it with the
"It's a Star Trek Bio! Sci-Fi! Sci-Fi!" message and tell readers what I
wanted them to get out of the book.

The thing is, a lot of readers who expected that sort of book were
pissed because it wasn't what they got, (a few of them were pleasantly
surprised, but the ones who wanted a gossipy Star Trek tell-all let me know what
an asshole I was for misleading them and wasting their time) but readers who were at least marginally
familiar with my blog, who were looking for something different, grokked
a different fundamental story in the text. A few days ago, WWdN reader
Stephanie wrote me the following, which I reprint with her permision:

What
I took from your book is that you shouldn't let one thing you do in
your life define you – because we do several different things in our
lives and there is more than one thing that makes us who we are.

That's
a really big part of my story. I'm really glad you grokked it,
Stephanie, and I hope it inspired you and others to follow your dreams,
whatever they may be.

(Imagine the sound of The Vault closing)

light fuse, put on ground, and get away

I'm in Portland, working on Leverage. There is so much Cha0s in this episode, I've worked very long hours, and haven't had the time or energy to write about production (that's a good thing), and my plan to recap the week yesterday was foiled by complete exhaustion and a Doctor Who marathon.

If you're interested in keeping up with what I'm doing in Portland and on the set, I suggest following me on Twitter, where I've been posting quick updates and sharing pictures.

Until I have the time and energy for a proper post, I thought I'd take a moment to share a timely repeat, since it's the Fourth of July and everything.

I've written hundreds of thousands of words over the years, but this remains one of my all-time favorites, so I like to revisit it every year. It was originally written and published on July 5, 2002, which usually feels like years and days ago all at once, but this year actually feels like a lifetime away.

Fireworks

When I was growing up, we always spent Fourth of July with my father's aunt and uncle, at their fabulous house in Toluca Lake.

It was always a grand affair and I looked forward to spending each Independence Day listening to Sousa marches, swimming in their enormous pool and watching a fireworks show on the back patio.

This fireworks display was always exciting because we were in the middle of LA County, where even the most banal of fireworks – the glow worms – are highly illegal and carried severe fines and the threat of imprisonment, should we be discovered by LA's finest. The excitement of watching the beautiful cascade of sparks and color pouring out of a Happy Flower With Report was enhanced  by the knowledge that we were doing something forbidden and subversive.

Yes, even as a child I was already on my way to being a dangerous subversive. Feel free to talk to any of my middle-school teachers if you doubt me.

Each year, the older children, usually teenagers and college-aged, would be chosen to light the fireworks and create the display for the rest of the family.

I was Chosen in 1987, three weeks before my fifteenth birthday.

The younger cousins, with whom I'd sat for so many years, would now watch me the way we'd watched Tommy, Bobby, Richard and Crazy Cousin Bruce, who always brought highly illegal firecrackers up from Mexico.

I was going to be a man in the eyes of my family.

This particular 4th of July was also memorable because it was the first 4th that was celebrated post-Stand By Me and at the time I had become something of a mini-celebrity around the family. Uncles who had never talked to me before were asking me to sign autographs for people at work, older cousins who had bullied me for years were proclaiming me “cool,” and I was the recipient of a lot of unexpected attention.

I was initially excited to get all this newfound attention, because I'd always wanted to impress my dad's family and make my dad proud, but deep down I felt like it was all a sham. I was the same awkward kid I'd always been and they were treating me differently because of celebrity, which I had already realized was fleeting and bullshit.

Looking back on it now, I think the invitation to light fireworks may have had less to do with my age than it had to do with my growing fame . . . but I didn't care. Fame is fleeting . . . but it can get a guy some cool stuff from time to time, you know? I allowed myself to believe that it was just a coincidence.

The day passed as it always did. There were sack races, basket ball games and water balloon tosses, all of which I participated in, but with a certain impatience. These yearly events were always fun, to be sure, but they were standing directly between me and the glorious excitement of pyrotechnic bliss.

Finally, the sun began to set. Lawn chairs were arranged around the patio, wet swimsuits were traded for warm, dry clothes, and I bid my brother and sister farewell as I joined my fellow firework lighters near the corner of the house. I walked casually, like someone who had done this hundreds of times before.

As the sun sank lower and lower, sparklers were passed out to everyone, even the younger children. I politely declined, my mind absolutely focused on the coming display. I wanted to make a big impression on the family. I was going to start out with something amazing, which would really grab their attention. I'd start with some groundflowers, then a Piccolo Pete and a sparkling cone. From then on, I'd just improvise with the older cousins, following their lead as we worked together to weave a spectacular tapestry of burning phosphor and gunpowder for five generations of family.

Dusk arrived, the family was seated, and the great display began. Some of the veteran fireworks lighters went first, setting off some cascading fountains and a pinwheel. The assembled audience cheered and gasped its collective approval, and it was my turn.

I steeled myself and walked to the center of the large patio, casually kicking aside the still-hot remains of just-fired fountains. Casually, like someone who had done this hundreds of times before.

My hands trembled slightly, as I picked up three ground flowers that I'd wound together. My thumb struck flint and released flaming butane. I lit the fuse and became a man. The sparkling fire raced toward the ignition point and rather than following the directions to “LIGHT FUSE, PUT ON GROUND AND GET AWAY,” I did something incredibly stupid: I casually tossed the now-flaming bundle of pyrotechnics on the ground. Casually, like someone who'd done this hundreds of times before.

The bundle of flowers rolled quickly across the patio, toward my captive and appreciative audience.

Two of the flowers ignited and began their magical dance of colorful fire on the cement, while the third continued to roll, coming to rest in the grass beneath the chair of a particularly old and close-to-death great-great-great aunt.

The colored flame which was creating such a beautiful and harmless display on the patio was spraying directly at this particular matriarch, the jet of flame licking obscenely at the bottom of the chair.

The world was instantly reduced to a few sounds: My own heartbeat in my ears, the screams of the children seated near my great-great-great aunt and the unmistakable z
ip of the now-dying flowers on the patio.

I don't know what happened, but somehow my great-great-great aunt, who'd managed to survive every war of the 20th century, managed to also survive this great mistake of mine. She was helped to her feet and she laughed.

Unfortunately, she was the only one who was laughing. One of my dad's cousins, who was well into his 20s and never attended family gatherings accompanied by the same date, sternly ripped the lighter from my hand and ordered me back to the lawn, to sit with the other children. Maybe I could try again next year, when I was “more responsible and not such a careless idiot."

I was crushed. My moment in the family spotlight was over before it had even begun and not even the glow of pseudocelebrity could save me.

I carefully avoided eye contact, as I walked slowly, humiliated and embarrassed, back to the lawn, where I tried not to cry. I know the rest of the show unfolded before me, but I don't remember it. All I could see was a mental replay of the bundle of ground flowers rolling across the patio. If that one rogue firework hadn't split off from its brothers, I thought, I would still be up there for the finale, which always featured numerous pinwheels and a Chinese lantern.

When the show was over, I was too embarrassed to apologize and I raced away before the patio lights could come on. I spent the rest of the evening in the front yard, waiting to go home.

The following year I was firmly within the grip of sullen teenage angst and spent most of the festivities with my face planted firmly in a book -Foundation or something, most likely- and I watched the fireworks show with the calculated disinterest of a 15-year-old.

That teenage angst held me in its grasp for the next few years and I even skipped a year or two, opting to attend some parties where there were girls who I looked at, but never had the courage to talk to.

By the time I had achieved escape velocity from my petulant teenage years, Aunt Betty and Uncle Dick had sold the house and 4th of July would never happen with them again.

The irony is not lost on me, that I wanted so badly to show them all how grown up I was, only to behave more childishly than ever the following years.

This 4th of July, I sat on the roof of my friend Darin's house with Anne and the boys and watched fireworks from the high school. Nolan held my hand and Ryan leaned against me as we watched the Chamber of Commerce create magic in the sky over La Crescenta.

I thought back to that day, 15 years ago and once again I saw the groundflower roll under that chair and try to ignite great-great-great aunt whatever her name was.

Then I looked down at Nolan's smiling face, illuminated in flashes of color.

"This is so cool, Wil!” he declared, “Thanks for bringing us to watch this."

"Just be glad you're on a roof and not in a lawn chair,” I told him.

"Why?"

"Well . . . ” I began to tell him the story, but we were distracted by a particularly spectacular aerial flower of light and sparks.

In that moment, I realized that no matter how hard I try, I will never get back that day in 1987, nor will I get to relive the sullen years afterward . . . but I do get to sit on the roof with my wife and her boys now and enjoy 4th of July as a step-dad . . . at least until the kids hit the sullen years themselves.

Then I'm going to sit them in lawn chairs and force them to watch me light groundflowers.

excerpted from Just A Geek: a sort of homecoming

As I said in my last post, I'm really excited for all of the events on my schedule at the Phoenix Comicon this weekend, especially the TNG panel, because I get to share the stage with Jonathan and LeVar. Even though I talk to LeVar fairly often, we've never spoken together at a con. Though I've recently seen Jonathan quite a lot, he and I haven't been on stage together since 2001, when I was in a very different emotional place, struggling like crazy to figure out how to handle my post-Star Trek life, while I was also struggling to just survive as a working actor.

I wrote about that con in Just A Geek. This is from Chapter 7, which is subtitled "a sort of homecoming":

When I worked on Star Trek, I always struggled to fit in with the adults around me. It was easy to relate to them professionally, but  on a personal level, no matter how hard I tried, I was still a kid and they were still adults. I often thought that Wesley Crusher could have been a much richer and more interesting character if the writers had taken advantage of that very real turmoil that existed within me, and used it to add some humanity to Wesley in between the Nanite making and polarity reversing . . . but I guess it was more fun (and easier) to write for the android. I can't say that I blame them.

For whatever reason, I was never able to entirely lose that teenage angst, and whenever I attended a Star Trek event, or saw one of the cast members, I immediately felt like I was 16 again. Because of that feeling –   and, if I was willing to be truly, fearlessly honest with myself, the fact that I hadn't done very much with my career since leaving the show –  I avoided Star Trek events (and that inevitable feeling of shame and angst that accompanied them) for years. Of course there were exceptions, but they were few and far between.

In 2001, I was presented with an opportunity to share the stage with the Big Three of The Next Generation: Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. The event was called “The Galaxy Ball.” Robert Beltran, the actor who played Chakotay on Voyager, hosts it each year to benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, Doctors Without Borders, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and some other worthwhile charities. When I received the invitation, that familiar anxiety and apprehension sprung up immediately. 

“What will I talk about? What have I done? How can I face them?”  The Voice of Self Doubt was relentless.

“Easy,” Prove To Everyone said, “You've got your website. You've got the shows you do at ACME. You've got a wife and stepkids. You're not a kid anymore. You kicked ass in Vegas, and you can kick ass again. Besides, when will you have a chance to be on stage with these guys again?”

“You’re right,” I said, “but if you keep talking to yourself like this, they’re going to throw you out of Starbucks.”

I looked up, and offered a smile to the girl scouts who were staring at me. I bought several hundred dollars worth of Thin Mints to solidify my reputation as an eccentric millionaire playboy who hangs out at Starbucks in his Bermuda shorts.

When the day came to go to the ball, I dressed in my finest gown, and bid my wicked stepsisters goodbye as I got into my carri  – 

Wait. Sorry. That’s not my story. That’s Cinderella's story. I often get us confused.

The morning of the ball, I had a major fashion crisis. I was going to wear a suit, but I felt like I was playing dress up. I put on an ironic hipster T-shirt and black jeans, but then I felt like a child. I settled on this cool black cowboy shirt with eagles on the front and jeans. I looked at myself in the mirror that hangs on the back of my bedroom door, and thought I looked kind of cool. 

"You guys stay here," I said to Prove To Everyone and The Voice of Self Doubt. "I'm doing this on my own today." I ignored the explosion of discarded clothes that littered the rest of my room, and left the drawers open when I left.

During the twenty minute drive to the ball, I went over material in my head. I prepared jokes and did improv warm up exercises, and by the time I got there I felt like I’d been on stage for three hours.

I parked my car in the self-park garage. I convinced myself that it was stupid to cough up seven bucks for a valet to drive it forty feet, but the truth was all the other guys have luxury cars, and my VW seemed a little . . . unimpressive. 

I made my way to the green room, and discovered Jon
athan Frakes, who had arrived ahead of me. 

“Hi, Johnny,” I said. I felt my face get warm.

A huge smile spread across his face as he stood up. 

“W!” he said, “You look great, man!” 

I love it when he calls me “W” (pronounced “double-you”)  –  my whole life I wanted a cool poker nickname, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come.

He closed the distance between us in two strides, and wrapped his arms around me in a big, fatherly bearhug. 

“You too,” I said. 

“Have you eaten?” he said.

“Some coffee and toast this morning,” I said. I didn’t mention anything about my nervous stomach, and the barely-touched  omelette I left on the table.

“Help yourself,” he said, and pointed to a table where some food was set out. “They always give us too much food, you know?”

I laughed. I haven’t spent nearly enough time in green rooms to know, but I took his word for it.

I opened a ginger ale and picked up a handful of veggies. As I munched on a carrot, he said, “How have you been?”

It was the question that I always dreaded. I would always smile bravely, ignore the knot in my chest, and say something like,“Oh, you know . . . Things are slow, but I have an audition next week.” 

I spoke before that familiar knot could tighten.

“Not too bad. I haven’t worked in ages, but I’m doing a really good sketch comedy show at ACME in Hollywood.” I lifted my ginger ale with a mostly-steady hand, and took a long drink.

“And I made myself a website where I write a lot of stuff. It’s pretty fun.”

“Have you been doing any cons?” He asked.

“A few,” I said. “I did one in Vegas last month.” 

“Slanted Fedora?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“How did it go?”

“I took my sketch group out there and we did a show. It was really fun.”

“Oh! I heard about that. I hear you’re really funny.” 

“Yeah, I try to entertain the kids.” I said. The knot tightened so violently in my chest, it felt like a heart attack. I felt intensely uncomfortable and embarrassed. The feeling surprised me; here was the one thing that I’d been doing, and doing well — I was very proud of my sketch work, yet I didn't want to talk about it. 

“I may be funny in some sketch comedy shows that hardly anyone ever sees,” I thought, “but I'm struggling to pay my bills, I can't get hired for anything in Hollywood, and all of you guys have gone on to be rich and famous. I may be funny, but I sure fucked up the biggest opportunity of my career when I quit 'Star Trek.'”

I shoved several carrots in my mouth and I changed the subject.

“Have you been watching TNG on TNN?”

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s amazing how those old shows hold up.”

“Except Angel One,” I said.

“And Code of Honor,” he said.


“No vaccine!”
 we said in unison, quoting one of the actors in that show and laughed. The knot loosened.

“It’s so weird for me to watch them,” I said, “because I was so young. It’s like my high school yearbook has come to life.”

“That’s because you’ve actually grown up since then,” he said, “the rest of us have just gotten fatter.”

“Don’t let Marina hear you say that,” I said.

He thought for a moment, and added, “Okay, all of us except Marina.”

He winked. I smiled. The knot untied itself.

“Seriously, though,” he said, “we’ve just gotten older. You’re the only one of us who’s actually changed.”

“I guess you’re right,” I said.

I'm older and changed, now. I'm a fundamentally different person than I was when I wrote this: I'm much happier, I feel like my life is more or less under my control, and I spend as much time feeling grateful for what I have as I once spent worrying about what I didn't. I feel really secure and happy with my relationship to Star Trek, and when I speak at a con, I don't feel like I'm just resting on the faded laurels of something I did over twenty years ago, rehashing stories people know like the lyrics to an old pop song.

My acting and writing careers are doing better than I ever dreamed possible when I nervously drove myself to the Galaxy Ball almost ten years – wow, almost a decade – ago. It looks like I'll be a recurring character on The Big Bang Theory and Eureka, and I think I may get to do more episodes of Leverage. My manager says that casting people are asking about me all the time because they want to put me into their shows, and I've even had development meetings with executives at major networks who specifically want to work with me. w00tstock is just starting out, and it's already exceeding our wildest expectations; it's so much fun to do, but more importantly, it seems to matter to the people who come to see it, which fills me with joy.

I'm sitting at my desk right now, while my dog snores on the floor against the wall behind me, underneath the velvet Wesley Crusher John Scalzi gave me. On the bookshelf next to me, there are copies of every book I've written, and there are even a couple of awards I've received for some of my work. From where I am (physically and emotionally) at this moment, reading about the fear and anxiety I had in 2001 fills me with a mixture of sadness, relief, and gratitude. Just A Geek is about a journey, and for me, that journey wasn't fully completed until I wrote about taking it. I'm trying to find a way to turn some of that story into an entertaining stage show, so I've been rereading Just A Geek, emotionally reliving that journey, and viscerally remembering just how terrible it felt to be imprisoned by the voices of Self Doubt and Prove To Everyone.

Riding that emotional roller coaster again, even if it's only in my memory, reminds me how it feels to be at the other parabola on this particular horizontal axis of symmetry (I guess you could call this feeling my irrational normal curve, if you were into stretching a mathematical metaphor right past its breaking point) and every day I'm more than a little scared that I'm going to fuck it all up, somehow, that I'm standing atop some precarious house of cards that could collapse at any moment, and because the cards were designed by an evil wizard, they have razors for edges and will cut me to ribbons when I fall. (There's always an evil wizard, guys. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true; that's science.)

I've worked really hard to get from where I was in 2001 to where I am now, and looking back on the years in between, I can see more good times than bad, even if it felt that the opposite was true at the time. I also see that I was never alone. I was always accompanied by my wife and family, as well as everyone who read and commented on my blog, bought my books, and encouraged me, in one way or another, to just keep going and never give up. I don't know how many of you reading this today have been here since the old days, but for those of you who are: thank you for helping me not die of dysentery on the trail.

I'm really looking forward to this convention. I can't wait to see my friends, host the second annual RockBand party, reveal some fairly big secrets about some fairly awesome projects during my Awesome Hour, attend an actual nerd prom, and do something so epic with Scalzi, we're both preparing to pass out a white paper titled The Recalibration of Things What Are Epic. The only thing I'm even remotely worried about is not having enough energy to fully enjoy all of the cool things I'm scheduled to do … and if that is my biggest problem, if that is what I'm worried about, well, my life is good.

Yeah, my life is very good, indeed.

From the Vault: “Foster is down!”

Today is the first day in a week that I didn't get up at 4am to go to work. I really wish I could say what I've been working on, because it's awesome, but I have to keep that information in a secure location for at least a few more days.

It was pretty great that I got to sleep late – I rolled out of bed at 8, despite my efforts to convince my brain that it should shut the fuck up and sleep while it can – and it was especially nice to see that my dogs were so happy to see me.

Both of the dogs met me at my bedroom door and proceeded to follow me all around the house while I made breakfast and stuff. I texted Anne: The dogs must have missed me, because they've been following me everywhere since I got out of bed 20 minutes ago." She texted back "Oh, I didn't feed them before I left." I replied, "Awwww DAMMIT!"

It's been a pretty great day already, what with the sleeping in and basically earning a day off, but it's about to get a whole lot better, since Red Dead Redemption came out today, and I can play a whole bunch of it without feeling guilty.

Some of you may know that I'm a character in RDR … now all of you know that I'm a character in RDR … and it's always fun and weird to play a game where I can hear my own voice come out of one of the characters. Thinking about that while I made my coffee this morning reminded me of this post from the vault about a character I played in Ghost Recon 2 many years ago:

I play David Foster in Ghost Recon 2. I've been waiting for months to play it (ever since I recorded my first few lines of dialogue), and last night, I finally got my chance to try it out.

I couldn't sleep, so rather than lie in bed and toss around until I woke Anne and got The Wrath, I quietly went down to the living room to play.

Okay, the first mission? SO @!#$^%ING HARD! But that's good, because it sets it up for the player that this isn't going to be a cake walk. Save early, and save often, as the saying goes.

After several tries, I finally completed it with my entire squad intact, if slightly wounded. Funtimes!

On to mission two: blew the bridge with no problem, and lead my squad around the left side of the building complex, where we took a big group of hostiles completely by surprise! Yes! A few times, I heard me (Foster) tell myself, "Great shot!" or "Fire in the hole!" I must say, I am quite the badass . . . and so is David Foster.

So.

After we cleared this courtyard, I consulted my map and saw that we had a few hundred meters to cover before we met up with the British squad, so decided to send my men on the right flank while I went up the left side.

"Copy that," is that last thing I heard myself (Foster) say before a hail of gunfire errupted from behind some bushes.

"GARRAGGHHH!!!!!" I (Foster)screamed.

"Foster's been hit, captain!" Someone in my squad said, while I listened to myself (Foster) writhe in agony. "Oh shit!" I thought. "I have to save myself!"

I ordered my squad to lay down suppressive fire on the two North Koreans who had me (Foster) pinned down, and I crawled through the grass until I was close enough to adminster aid.

I heard the zip of the bullet cut through the air in front of me, just before it buried itself into my (Foster's) head.

"Foster is down!"

"We've lost Foster!"

"NOOOOO!" I shouted, loud enough to wake my entire house.

Luckily, the doors were all closed, and maybe my scream was louder in my head than it was in my living room, because The Wrath I would have gotten when Anne realized I was mourning my (Foster's) death in a video game would not have been pretty.

I reloaded the mission and tried again. This time, I ordered Foster to hang back while I tossed way too many grenades near the area where I knew the hostiles were lurking. Yeah, I spammed 'em good.

We hooked up with the Brits, held off a pretty nasty assault while we waited for extraction, and made it into the chopper relatively unscathed.

I don't know why, but I left out a key detail when I wrote that: I had Foster park himself in the start area, and didn't let him move until the entire area was cleared. It was a tough mission, and I made it tougher by doing it without one of my key party members, because I was so traumatized by his (my) untimely demise.

I cringe when I hear my writing voice from those days, but I'm willing cut myself a tiny bit of slack, because I was young and foolish then (I feel old and foolish now). The story still makes me smile, though, so I think it's a fair trade off. As Chuck Lorre would say, "Not so funny then, very funny now."

from the vault: april’s fool

Every year, I dream up some epic April Fool's thing, realize how much work it would take to do it well, and end up just waiting to see whatever Think Geek does.

This year, I ended up doing something fairly (hey, my fingers just automatically typed fail while my brain was thinking fair. That's funny.) Anyway, I ended up doing something fairly quick and silly. On Twitter, I postedDbrentspiner I'm grabbing lunch with levar and frakes before the super-secret TNG reunion show table read. You want to join us?

I wish I'd had enough characters to add, "Just call me on LeVar's cell, because my battery is almost dead," but I think it was pretty funny on its own, so consider this paragraph the Director's Cut, I guess.

For those of you keeping score, replies were about 80% "I see what you did there", "5% HA HA YOUR STUPID AND CANT USE TEH TWITTER", and 5% "Dude, that's so awesome I ca– oh. FFFFFFUUUUUUUUU." The final 10% replied to Pat Buchanan.

And because it's funny to me, here's something from behind the scenes: the first time I tried to send a "fake" DM to Brent, Twitter sent a real one, so I had to send another one to tell him what I was doing. He replied, "Where are you? We're already here, waiting for you at the Paramount Commissary." Brent, as he has since 1987, wins.

So this is all prologue to the one actual April Fool's prank I ever pulled since I started blogging, back in the good old days when digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

Reaching into the vault, I pulled out this, from Chapter 8 of Just a Geek:

"Creativity is the absence of fear," a friend of mine liked to say. After Vegas and The Galaxy Ball, a lot of the fear that Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake and The Voice of Self Doubt relied upon to survive was gone, and my creativity blossomed as a result. When I wrote in my weblog, I produced entries that were genuinely funny, and entertaining . . . to me at least. Things like:

10 March 2002

Make it burn!

As I write this, Anne is behind me, doing some workout video tape, and I can only hear the breathless voice of the girl who is leading the workout saying, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, doesn't that feel good? Don't stop, you're almost there *pant* *pant*"

If I didn't know any better, I'd think she was watching "Debbie Does 7 Minute Abs."

But seriously folks, try the fish, and be sure to stick around for the comedy and magic stylings of Johnny Funnypants! I hear the late show gets a little naughty.

I was overflowing with creative energy, and on April first, I pulled a notorious April Fool's joke.

01 April 2002

Good News, Bad News

Good morning, everyone and happy April! I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Okay, let's get straight to business: here's the bad news: the entire site has crashed and we can't figure out why. I don't know when the crash happened, or why, because I was offline all weekend, but I'm working on it. I suppose that if you can read this, it means things are working again, which will bring us to our second bad news: I tried to upgrade to Movable Type 2.0 on Friday and it broke. Goddammit! I swear, I am fucking cursed. I know what went wrong and I'm going to start pleading with the authors for some help. They seem like cool people, so hopefully they will be willing to give me a hand. *sigh*

On to the good news! Oh, this is such amazingly good news and it's been so hard to keep this to myself, but there have been contract talks and all sorts of negotiations and all that . . . but I can finally make the big big announcement:

The official announcement will be made on Thursday, but I've been given permission by Paramount's hired goons to make the announcement today.

In four weeks, I will be joining the cast of Enterprise in a recurring role!

The details are still being worked out, but basically what they plan to do is have Wesley use his Time Traveler abilities to move through space and time to the NX-01. He'll be more like the dark, troubled Wesley of “The First Duty” and “Final Mission” and less like the gee-whiz Wesley of days gone by.

Here's a little history: Nemesis is testing very well and Paramount is extremely excited that this lame little website has generated such a huge following. I guess some people started a letter-writing campaign, without my knowledge and Paramount listened. I spent most of last week on conference calls with Rick and Brannon, as well as some of the brass at Paramount, working out the details, making sure that Wesley will not be saving the NX-01 all the time. 

*grin*

I'll be in 8 of 22 episodes for the two seasons, with an option to renegotiate at the end of the second season. I'm only recurring to allow me the freedom to participate in other shows, and pursue other projects.

I'm so freakin’ excited, I don't even know what else to say. I can't believe that I'm going to be working on “Star Trek” again and I can't believe that I'm going to be working on Stages 8 and 9 again.

I have to go to a fitting right now. I'll write more when I have more details. I hope everyone has a great day!!

The Internet bought it completely. My announcement was posted on mega sites Slashdot and Fark (who were in on the joke), and the "news" was carried by many Sci-Fi newswires (who were not). I had very carefully crafted the news, working it out over the course of several of days, adding in difficult-to-verify yet plausible details, like the testing status of Nemesis (they didn't even have a rough cut at the time) and talking with the producers about the nature of Wesley's character upon his return. 

Minutes after I'd posted the prank, the e-mails began to pour in. Hundreds of Trekkies joined the regular readers of my website in expressing the joy I would have felt had it been real. The genuine happiness and kindness, pouring in from people all over the world, was the opposite of the reaction I expected, and as the happy e-mails piled up, I began to feel like I was misleading these people, and taking advantage of their good will. By the afternoon, I felt awful, and I decided to set the record straight.

    April Fool's!

Well, most of you have figured it out, by now, but the truth is . . . 

 . . . I'm not gonna be on Enterprise. Even as a computer voice, or within the secret, dirty, late-night thoughts of Capt. Archer.

I hope everyone takes this in good humor. Lots of people sent really kind and sweet congratulatory messages and I actually feel pretty badly for fooling such nice people. All the idiots who thought it was a really good idea to fill my inbox with “Wesley is gonna ruin Enterprise” crap should get a life and direct any further comments to /dev/null.

To be honest I was surprised at how many people were wishing me well; I was expecting the Kill Wesley Crowd to come out instead.

I think the greatest highlight of the day came when my mom called Anne while I was out..

The conversation went something like this:

Mom: Do you have something to tell me?

Anne: Uh, no.

Mom: Do you have some big news about Wil?

Anne: Oh, that. Uh, what day is today?

Mom: It's Monday!

Anne: Right. And the date is . . . ?

Mom: It's April Fir- OH! Damn you!

Heh. I guess my dad was all pissed off, stomping around my parent's house because I didn't tell them myself and he “had to read it on Wil's fucking website!"

Thanks go to the Frodo Crew(tm) who helped me take this scheme from stupid idea to stupid fruition: Spudnuts, jbay, JSc, Roughy, Bobby The Mat and Greeny. Also to /. and FARK, for getting on board.

All those people really did want me to succeed and they really were happy for me. The joy that I thought I would have felt, had I been given a chance to do Star Trek again, became real and undeniable when I realized that I had redefined myself with my weblog. Some people would still see me as That Washed Up Guy Who Used To Be An Actor When He Was A Kid, but many more people, including myself, saw me as That Guy With The Cool Weblog Who Is Just A Geek Like The Rest Of Us.

It's so weird to look back on the time that is covered in Just A Geek, because my life has changed so profoundly since then. I can so clearly recall thinking, "This will be great. All these people will be angry and go on and on about how I'll ruin Star Trek because they hate Wesley so much, and then I can be all, HA HA YOU GOT MAD FOR NOTHING IT WAS ALL A JOKE HA HA." It never occurred to me that anyone would be legitimately happy for me, let alone excited about the whole thing.

And you know what? Every single time I read anything from Just A Geek, I really want to do the Obligatory One Man Show called "Wil Wheaton is Just A Geek" where I distill the entire thing into 90 minutes or two hours, and perform it. I've done a lot of writing since I wrote this book, but it still means more to me than I can express in words (or pictures, which isn't really saying much because I can't draw for shit.)

Finally, this is probably a good time to mention that you can get your very own copy of Just A Geek: Teh Audio Book from my store at Lulu. As a bonus, if you buy it today and enter the code APRILFOOLS at checkout, you'll save 10%.

Happy April, everyone. The First Of May is just one month away…

From the Vault: Still Cool

This is excerpted from something that was written eight years ago, almost to the day. In addition to being a story that still makes me smile, it provides context and back story for Friday's post that newer readers may not have.

Even though I'm a much stronger and more confident writer now than I was then, I've resisted the urge to rewrite this, because something would definitely be lost in the translation… 

In the summer of 1988, I turned 16 years old, and, just like the Corey's, I got a License to Drive!

It's well documented within the Star Trek community that Patrick Stewart and I bought almost the same car, a 1989 Honda Prelude…the, uh, only problem is, I bought a model that was just slightly cooler than his. (He got the si, and I got the si4WS, baby.) Patrick has really had fun over the years, teasing me about how, since then, he's always had cooler cars than I do, to which I reply something about his driver.

What's not well documented, however, is this thing that happened, in the summer of 1988, in the parking garage at Paramount, where we all parked our cars.

We were all working late one night, probably shooting blue screen on the bridge, so we were all wrapped at the same time (a rarity). I excitedly walked to the parking garage with Jonathan Frakes, who I was already looking up to.

So we're walking back to our cars, and we're talking about something, I can't quite remember what, and I really feel like Jonathan is treating me like an equal. He's not treating me like I'm a kid. It really makes me feel good, and I say to him, "You know, Jonathan, I can tell, just from talking to you, that when you were younger? You used to be cool."

He laughs, and I think to myself that I've cemented my position with him as cool contemporary, rather than lame ass kid.

Then he says, "What do you mean, used to be?!"

I realized what I'd said, and how it didn't match up with what was in my head, which was, "Gee, man. You are so cool now, as an adult, I bet that you were a really cool guy, who I'd like to hang out with, when you were my age."

He knew what I meant, I could tell, and he really tortured me about that, for years. Every time I see him nowadays, he turns to a person nearby, and he says, "You know, Wheaton here told me that I used to be cool." We laugh about it, and I make the appropriate apologies, and explanations, while Jonathan makes faces and gestures indicating that I am full of shit.

You can probably see why I wanted to rewrite that when I looked at it this morning. I almost did, but I just couldn't bring myself to apply my own Red Pen of Doom to it. It's very rough, but the 2002 version of me used his words and developing storytelling skills the very best he could. If he thought that the 2010 version of me would look look back at this story, cringe, and rewrite it, he wouldn't have had the nerve to tell the story in the first place.

So, 2002 version of me, if you build a time machine and read this: Someday we're going to look back on this and want to rewrite it, but then we'll remember how we felt when we sat down at our Linux box on the desk in the living room and told this story for the first time on our lame blog. So you just go ahead and enjoy telling it, and know that I'm going to leave it alone when I get hold of it IN THE WORLD OF TOMORROW!!