Category Archives: JoCoCruiseCrazy

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

Writer and game designer Will Hindmarch is an occasional contributor to WWdN and constant mooncalf. In a good way.

When the writing is tough, I doubt a lot of my words and think hard about whether I really know what I’m doing or not. Where do I get the nerve to try to be heard or read?

As David Simon once put it, who died and made me Storyteller?

Thinking back to some of the lessons I’ve learned as a writer and narrative designer, I think about all the hours I’ve logged — through doubt and confidence, pain and passion — writing things I thought I might not be able to write. A lot of my knowledge was given to me by teachers and mentors but I think maybe none of it really made sense until I dared to fulfill or defy the lessons given unto me. I could train and train but only while I was writing did the full substance of the lessons make sense to me.

When the student is ready, the blank page shall appear.

It takes many forms. I’ve logged a gazillion hours telling collaborative stories through tabletop RPGs, which are a great way to learn adaptation, improvisation, and quick development of ideas as they happen. It’s a great medium for learning — you can imagine how excited I am by the prospect of a tabletop RPG show from my friend, games master Wil Wheaton. (So do fund the hell out of that, if you please.) We can all glean lessons from that kind of play.

Combine the experience points I’ve earned from RPGs with the  time I spent in the authorial batting cages of Ficlets (where I got to write stories in tandem with Wil) and you get my newest game design, which itself combines narrative gaming with actual writing.

That’s Storium.

Continue reading Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Learning to Write

Molly Lewis: The Year of the Beard

So the JoCoCruiseCrazy IV was amazing. I have many feelings and memories and pictures to share, but I’m in this sad little bag of post-cruise ennui, and until I can get past it, here’s a video that the amazing Molly Lewis shot on the cruise.

 

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: The Record

Will Hindmarch is @wordwill, a writer and designer of games, fiction, and more. He blogs at Gameplaywright and wordstudio.net. 

This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.

Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.

I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.

We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)

Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.

Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.

John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:

Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.

[via]

Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?

Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell —  I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.

If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.

It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.

Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?

 

Guest Post by Ryan Wheaton: Lawst Balloon, Part Two

Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.

(This piece was written in response to a prompt “about a lost balloon.” Part one appears here.)

“Fiona, please,” her mother said. “We’re already late and we don’t want to upset your Grandf—,” a trumpet cracked over an unseen intercom.

“Well, would you look at that,” a voice called out. “My, my, my, my, MY what a beautiful girl. You’ve grown up quite a bit my little Potato.” Fiona’s eyes widened in utter confusion.

“Honey, look up there,” her mother crouched down and pointed at a factory window. A dusted silhouette of a man waved frantically.

“My word, you’re even more majestic than I remembered. Please, please, come in, come in.” The trumpet sounded once more as the man disappeared from the window. Not a second later, a small hatchway swung out from the middle of the monstrous steel doors. Fiona stepped back as her mother dropped her hand and rushed forward. A balsa-framed man shuffled under the half-sized door frame and popped upright.

“Hello, hello, hellOOO,” he said, spinning in place.

“Oh, Grandfather. It’s been far too long,” Fiona’s mother said, bent halfway down, and embraced him. Her shoulder smashed into his nose and jostled his small spectacles.

“Oof,” he said.

Fiona hadn’t moved an inch forward and, in fact, had been slowly tip-toeing her way back to the car. She hoped that the displacement of her Grandfather’s glasses by her mother’s clumsy shoulders would allow her to flee beneath the cover of temporarily muddled vision.

“Fiona,” her mother said. “Fiona, get over here this second and give you Grandfather a hello and a hug.”

Fiona stopped mid-tip and set her toe back to the earth.

“Excuse me, young lady.” It was once her mother resorted to florid address that she knew any objection led only to public abjection. “Fiona Loreli Lawst, you turn right around, march over here, and give your Grandfather a hello and a hug immediately!”

Fiona grumbled before contorting her furrowed face into a plasticine smile.

“Hello Grandfather!” She curtsied before skipping toward him with a stomach full of molten disdain. Despite requiring a pink and purple step stool to reach most anything, Fiona’s Grandfather needn’t kneel nor crouch to greet her. Rather, he bent slightly at the waist and patted her head.

With his eyes squinted and a contented grin he said, “A happy hello to you, my sweet Potato.”

The blurred frantics of her mother’s hand signed, “hug hug hug!” Fiona begrudgingly leaned forward in the hopes this singular hug might suffice for any future expectations of expressed affection, but she groped only air. He had walked away.

“Come now, we have a few things to see, some things to do, and much, MUCH fun to be had. Now,” the double-steel doors howled on their hinges as he continued. “Now, I know it may not appear as ample in amusement on the outside,” his voice trailed a bit as he swung into a shadowed recess on the left wall. Fiona heard crunching gears and clacking buttons. Her mother stood beside her, clapping with anticipation. “… but, aren’t we taught never to,” he trailed off once more. Blue and red lights spun against the furthest wall while whistles and horns screeched and bonked. Her mother squeaked as she bounced in place barely able to keep herself contained. “… a book by her cover,” Grandfather bellowed. He cartwheeled out from behind his magic curtain cheering and dancing as the ceiling almost thirty feet above shattered into thousands of balloons that cascaded onto them in a kaleidoscopic hail storm. The stone wall they faced groaned as it began tottering and teetering. Fiona vaulted back as the immense slab slammed into the ground enveloping her in a cloud of soot and sand. Her mother wailed in delight. Tears sprinted from her eyes as she collapsed in ecstasy.

“It’s… it’s more wonderful, more exquisite than I recall,” her mother choked through tears. Her Grandfather rested his hand on her trembling shoulder. She whirled about, still on her knees, clasping his hand in both of hers.

“May — may I please,” she begged.

“Of course, my dear. There has never been a time you weren’t welcome to come back,” he beamed. She rose, still clutching his hand, “Thank you, oh thank you, Grandfather,” she stammered. “Fiona, Fiona, oh my sweet Fiona. You must come see. You must,” her mother’s eyes were shiny with hysteria.

“Go on, my dear. Fiona and I will only be a moment.” Grandfather removed a handkerchief from within his jacket and handed it to Fiona, “Here little Potato, wipe the dust from your eyes.” She gratefully took it and rubbed with ferocity. Through the cloudy sting and wobble of teardrops, her eyes refocused just as her mother vanished into the mass of dancing, flashing, laughing, singing, and spinning that had revealed itself. It was a golden-glazed paradise. It was in that moment Fiona understood that any prospect of happiness fate had attentively and thoughtfully laid out for the remainder of her life had been stomped out, extinguished, utterly ruined by comparison to the raw bliss that now ensnared her.

Her Grandfather rested his chin on her shoulder and whispered, “Breathtaking, isn’t it?”

 

Guest Post by Shane Nickerson: Old and Stinky

Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.

At night, my dog slinks into the living room and jumps up on the couch with me. He’s a whippet mix that we adopted from a rescue fair in 2005. Max. He came with the name.

He’s a gentle dog, eternally happy that we saved him from a lonely life lived, abandoned and sleeping underneath parked cars in South Central Los Angeles. He showed no signs of abuse, but he was found with no tags and covered in dirt and oil stains. When we met him, we immediately liked him. My two year old ran up to him before we could stop her, and he licked her face gently. In the hectic hot sun of a park filled with excited dogs waiting for new humans to please take them home, he was panting and scattered; flitting back and forth on his leash, desperately trying to make sense of the unusual crowded mixture of people and animals around him. We struggled for a moment, still grieving the loss of our previous whippet mix, but his gentle spirit and perpetual smile won us over. After some discussion, we took home our new friend.

It’s become more difficult for him lately. He has arthritis in his right hind leg, and the boundless energy we used to curse has become a casualty of his age. He still gets after the squirrels every morning, but in the same way an old man tries to keep up with the grandkids. The desire is still there, but the pep is waning.

He liked me best, almost right away. We lived in a two bedroom rented beach cottage in the South Bay, and he’d lay with his head on my lap every night as I fell asleep watching TV in our tiny living room. The back yard was an exceptionally large one for Manhattan Beach, and there was nothing he loved more than chasing the tennis ball on a rope that I’d throw endlessly across the yard. When I ran out of energy, he’d stay outside and race around in the overgrown thicketed lot until panting exhaustion. A single abrasive bark was my cue to come let him back inside. It’s one of those barks that’s impossible to ignore. Grating. Unpleasant. It’s incredibly effective at getting me off of the couch.

These days, he goes outside to sniff the air and do a quick patrol around our much smaller yard in the Valley, but within a few minutes, he’s at the back door firing off that same annoying bark. Old man Max.

My kids want a puppy.

(All kids want a puppy.)

They put together a presentation for us on why we should get a brand new puppy. It was cute, but I had to pass on their proposal.

“Max is our dog,” I told them, “and if he could talk, he’d tell you he’s not interested in a new puppy roommate.”

“But puppies are so cute,” they persisted, “and Max is old and stinky!”

A fair point.

“We can talk about a puppy after Max dies,” I mistakenly told them.

“So we can get a puppy after he’s dead?” they asked eagerly.

Oh no.

“We can TALK about it,” I said.

“Yay! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy!” they sang.

I’ve inadvertently made my children excited for the death of our family dog. Great work, me. Pretty glad Max can’t speak English.

He’s old and stinky, it’s true. But he’s the most loyal, gentle, patient dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s endured three children in all stages of their mayhem. He’s been colored on, had his hair pulled and eyes poked, had his tail yanked and ears gouged, and he’s never so much as nipped at them. He still sleeps with me on the couch for as long as he can endure the discomfort of his arthritic leg. When I come home from work, he’s still as excited as the first day we brought him home.

So yes, maybe someday we’ll get another dog.

But for now, this old stinky one is the only one we need.

A guest post from Brad Willis: A field full of lightning

Brad Willis is a writer, reporter, and aspiring author. His personal blog is Rapid Eye Reality. He is @BradWillis on Twitter.

When I was in grade school, we played outside at recess. Hilldale Elementary had a small playground and a forever-scape of dirt and grass that we turned into our warzones, dragon lairs, and Super Bowl gridirons. A dormant but deep sinkhole sat on the north edge near Highway EE, and that’s where I was headed when the lightning cut out of the clouds. It was one of those bolts that carried its thunderclap on its nose, and for the noise it made, a bomb might as well have dropped on my head. Instead, because I was a pre-teen doofus, I jumped in the air, pulled my knee to my face, and knocked my nose sideways. My nose is still crooked, and I still know lightning doesn’t have to strike on target to hurt like hell.

LINDA

Something looked different about Linda.

It’s been more than a decade since she started handling my finances. We handle most things online. I see her this time every year to settle my business and personal taxes. When I went to her office yesterday, I was struck by a niggling suspicion that something was wrong. She’d stopped coloring her hair. She looked tired.

I was distracted, worried about how much I was going to have to pay, whether I could get in a run before dinner, and every other silly thing that goes along with life as an adult. She asked if my family was planning any big vacations for the year. I babbled about my finances, and then asked her what she trips had planned.

“We usually go somewhere after tax season, but I don’t think we can this year,” she said. She drifted off and looked at my returns on her dual monitors.

“Why not?” I said.

I heard the words leave my mouth just as my brain figured out what was different about Linda.

She had no breasts.

“Oh, Linda,” I said.

Three months ago, she went to the doctor for an ear infection. Something seemed off, and her doctor sent her to a cardiologist. That doctor found a mass, and together they elected for the surgery.

“Don’t go to the doctor for a ear infection,” she said with a half-smile, and then went back to working on my K-1.

MONSTER IN THE FIELD

Last week, police say a man named Craig Wood snatched a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens from a neighborhood street on the west side of Springfield, Missouri. Wood, a stranger to Owens, then allegedly shot her in the base of the skull, put her in a bag, and hid her in a plastic tub. When I wrote about it, I took a modicum of comfort in the fact that such crimes were exceptionally rare. I called them lightning strikes without a god to blame for them.

The crime shook the Springfield community in a way few have. Thousands of people took to the streets in the hope of finding some peace in the kind of rare crime that will haunt a city forever.

When you have a career in news, desensitizing yourself to tragedy is a survival skill. You learn to turn off your heart to the daily earthquakes humanity inflicts on itself. I don’t know how many dead bodies I saw in my day, and I’m grateful for that. I moved away from Springfield more than 20 years ago, and I still felt my stomach clench every time I saw a new part of the Hailey Owens story come out.

As children, we feared bogeymen who would snatch us off the street. As adults, we fear what might come up from our guts, attack our insides, and confuse our brains. The rest of the time, we think about how those same invisible creatures might take our friends away from us.

Last month, in the span of a few days, the following things happened: a person I know committed suicide. A guy who went to my high school was arrested for murder in a Texas ghost town. Two of my friends died of cancer. It felt like a veritable field of lightning where every strike tore holes through my eardrums and shook the ground at my feet. It made me wonder which was worse: the fear of losing someone to a monster, or the sadness that inevitably follows.

And then I went to finish my taxes.

TAXED

Linda is worried about the chemo. Six years ago, her mother struggled through it.

“I don’t want that,” she said, shaking her head.

The doctor has convinced her the chemo treatments have improved and that they could save her life. It’s tax season, though, and this is when she has to work. She literally can’t afford to be sick.

“I’ll do chemo on Fridays,” she said, but then as if just thinking of it herself, “but I do returns on Saturdays sometimes.”

She nodded again, as if saying to herself, “I’ll get through it, because I have to get through it.”

“I’ll be thinking about you,” I said when I left. Linda smiled and thanked me. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since. She was handling her cancer with a southern woman’s strength and poise that I couldn’t help but admire. It was like the lightning had struck, and she had managed to grab it with her hand and hold it tight.

COURAGE NONETHELESS

There is a certain freedom in being a child. You’re expected to run with abandon, be careless, and live like tomorrow is as sure as today’s sunrise. That’s how it should be, no matter how dark the sky gets.

As adults, however, we know the dark skies mean more than hidden sunshine. We know they’re  going to slam down on the people we love, and then eventually crush us, too. It scares us, this existential indifference and inevitable end we’ll all meet.

We leave the playground, and as adults we bandy our responsibilities while keeping a close eye the rolling gray in the sky. We worry about taxes, careers, schools, mortgages, and retirement plans. When something starts to look odd, we pretend like it’s something else, sometimes until it’s too late, and, too often, we do it alone.

I think about the people who’ve been struck around me: Frank check-raising with a weak flush draw, Texas Scott donning a tiara and laughing like a loon, Chris clipping coupons and proudly getting 60 cents off on chicken breasts. They were people I played with beneath the clouds. Their deaths have shaken me, but they also remind me of the power of childhood. Maybe life is not so much in its potential or its end, but in how much of its games, music, art, and friendships we can harness. Maybe that’s the only shield that can protect us.

Back on the playground at Hilldale, we grabbed hands and pulled each other into the field. Even as the teachers yelled at us to come in from the storm, we sprinted and laughed and dared the sky to explode. It was a child’s courage, but courage nonetheless. Maybe that was how it was meant to be.

Linda believes she is going to be okay. I’m going to believe that with her. To not would be to disrespect the bravery she’s discovered in a place I’ve not yet found.

* Linda’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Guest Post by Ryan Wheaton: Lawst Balloon

Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.

(This piece was written in response to the prompt “Write about a lost balloon.”)

Fiona was only 4 years old when she first met Grandfather Lawst. When her mother pulled her out of the car seat and set her on the parking lot gravel, she was immediately concerned that maybe they had arrived at an abandoned brick factory, or perhaps a textile warehouse. Certainly, a balloon factory would be more cheerful, brighter, made of rubbery spires and bouncy drawbridges. But, having only just learned to read, she labored through the flaking chiseled banner’s words and mouthed to herself in confusion.

“Mommy, what’s a Last Allin Elteedee,” she asked.

“Sorry, honey, what? Oh, no dear, that says Lawst Balloon,” she replied.

Fiona hadn’t experienced much in the way of disappointment in the 4 short years she’d been alive, but when it came to balloons, there was a specific expectation she had come to rely on.

“But, why is it like this?” she asked.

“Like what?” her mother asked, crouching down.

“Well, um. Why is it old?” she asked.

“Papa’s family has had this balloon factory for over 6 generations,” her mother said as she unrolled her fingers to count. “And when you have something for a long, long time, it changes. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not as fun.” Her mother smiled.

Fiona puffed her cheeks up in protest; without a bouncing drawbridge there’d be no way to get inside. She might’ve been taught the realities of a balloon factory before they had turned down the dirt road some miles back, and even before they had left the house, but she wasn’t ready to accept them and assumed that her stubbornness had some sway. “But…” she paused. She let go of her mother’s hands and turned to face Last Allin. It was gray. Very gray. Even the sun that shone behind her seemed to sink from a vibrant yellow to a flat gray, very gray, as it neared the factory. There was no way it housed balloons. No monolith of apathy so dusted, no facade distraught with shattered glass eyes and rusted, broken-teeth gates could keep an iota of the summer-blue sky caged. It was outright paradoxical, this notion that such happy creatures were birthed within the belly of this brooding behemoth. Then again, Fiona was only 4 and her understanding of the principles underlying the conception of balloons had not yet fully formed.

“It’s scary,” she said.

“Come on now, Fiona, Grandfather has been waiting long enough. I’m sure he already knows we’re here. We don’t want to be rude.”

Fiona struggled against the tide of her mother’s pace, but a quick glance unfastened her knees. She dropped her eyes to her feet and watched as the dust rose and fell with each defeated kick of her toe. The daisies on her dress had already started to fade as they neared the double steel doors of the Lawst Balloon Factory. If she had ever before seen the frown of a child that had just been given a gray balloon, she wouldn’t have to wonder how sad she looked at that very moment.

 

Guest Post From Shane Nickerson: Routine

Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.

“We will miss the crying days,” I mumbled to my wife as she crawled out of bed to accompany our three year old back to her room after a bad dream.  “Someday, we’ll wish we could come back to right here.”  She grunted at me with what I’m sure must have been a, “You’re right honey. You’re the best!” I fell back asleep and woke up several hours later to find her already making the kids’ lunches. Halfway through cup two of coffee, she had a significant head start on Monday. I walked to the coffee cabinet of our kitchen and pulled down a silver bag of Tonx beans. I pulled out a scale, and carefully measured 30g of beans for my 16 oz. cup of morning coffee. I dumped them into the hopper of a burr grinder, pulverized the beans into a grainy pile, then savored the perfect aroma before adding the grounds to the chamber of an AeroPress. The AeroPress is a flawlessly designed re-imagining of the French Press.  It makes a great cup. This is my coffee ritual.

“I’ll miss these days,” I tell myself.

My kids are up by 7:20.  By then, I’m usually checking the news or twitter or stocks or Facebook or Reddit or all of them over and over while I drink my coffee. On the couch. In the same spot every morning. I am a modern version of a parent. My newspaper has been replaced by a Macbook.

Shower, choose a pair of jeans, a pair of Jordans and probably an American Apparel Tri-Blend tee in grey or charcoal, put on a watch and go to work. I am 42, but I dress like I wish I wasn’t. In the car, Howard Stern is mid rant. He has become my driving companion over these last six years. A constant voice drowning out the monotonous short drive down the 101 to the 134 Freeway. It calms me.

Routines creep up on you. For so long I resisted them, desperate to stay fresh and chaotic. Lately, I realize how much I savor them, depend on them, and create them. Calm within the chaos.

Exit Buena Vista and make a left. The construction on the overpass is finally over. They fixed it or moved it or widened it or whatever. I can go left again. My drive is back to normal. Stern hands it over to Robin for the news.

Everyone is alive. My parents are healthy, my siblings are healthy, their families are healthy and mine is healthy. My friends don’t feel old yet (although their grey hair is moving quickly from a few strands towards “the battle is lost”), and most of the people I’ve known for a long time are alive and okay. I will miss these days, my routine mind reminds me. These days are numbered. We’ve always known that.

My last ten years blinked by. All of my years have blinked by. I have lived so many lifetimes, each grouped under a banner. High School. College. Actor. Producer. Father. All of it together. None of it possible.

I arrive home at 7ish. My wife has the thousand yard stare from her day long battle against routine, and I hand her the bottle of pretty good wine I picked up at Ralph’s on the way home (she texted me). My kids are happy to see me, partly because I’m their dad and partly because I’m a new face after a day of the same 4 faces. I hug them. They tell me about Minecraft and what they built and the mods they want. I play their games and chase them and hug them and read them books and catch up and try my best to cram a day into an hour. “I need more time for them,” I think. “Cats in the Cradle,” my brain bleats. “Not fair,” I bleat back. That song is my weakness. A constant warning against making the wrong choices.

They finally get in bed and go to sleep and my wife and I watch an episode of House of Cards. I struggle to keep my eyes open, and it’s only 9:30pm. We are turning into parents. That’s what the parenting books don’t tell you. For ten years, you’re a kid pretending to be a parent. And then suddenly, you’re a parent wishing you were still a kid. The chaos you once thrived upon has been replaced by the deep appreciation for those valuable moments of wonderful and calming routine.

I find my place on the couch and open my computer.

At night, the world stops.

I’ll miss these days.

A guest post from Brad Willis: Wheaton’s Law Revisited

Brad Willis is a writer, reporter, and aspiring author. His personal blog is Rapid Eye Reality.

Let’s just deal with the elephant in the room right from the start, because it can get stompy, and I don’t want anything to get broken. I can hear you muttering at your screen, “Brad Willis? Who the hell is this guy? What’s he doing here?” This post should go a little way toward explaining how a guy Wil once watched eat Keno crayons (for money, of course) is guest-posting alongside so many familiar faces.

If you’re reading this, you likely know Wheaton’s Law (if not, he explained it here). You know it tells you exactly how not to act.  What it doesn’t say outright is what you should do next. Wil Wheaton knows the next part, and it’s how he has quietly changed more than a few lives, mine included. Wheaton’s Law will fit on a t-shirt. The next part takes a little more space. My part of the story begins with a dead man.

HIGHWAY STORYTELLER

When the coroner unzipped the body bag in the middle of the interstate, there was only half of a person inside.  A couple of hours earlier, he had been a 19 year-old man on his way to college. Now, he was half of a charred skeleton someone had pushed into a sack and left on a patch of hot South Carolina asphalt.

I spent ten years staring at some of the worst things fate dealt people—sickening twists of happenstance, soulless and selfish pride, unbelievable depravity. All of it is stuck in a place in my brain I try not to visit too often, but that sticky August day in 1999 comes calling more often than most. It’s what I think of when I think about my life before 2005.

See, I spent most of my life wanting only to be a storyteller. The goal has always been to write books. Somewhere along the way somebody convinced me it would be a lot more practical and meaningful to become a TV newsman, so that’s what I did for a decade. It was a fine profession and it let me do what I wanted, but the business was changing in way that didn’t necessarily suit me. What’s more, I’d seen enough dead people.

What happened in those intervening years isn’t so important as what happened almost exactly ten years ago when Wil Wheaton changed the direction of my life.

In 2004, the online poker company PokerStars wanted Wil to go down to the Bahamas and write about an annual poker festival the company hosts at Atlantis. Wil couldn’t make it, and though he’d never met me, he had been reading my stuff.

I started blogging in 2001, and some of my poker writing caught Wil’s eye. He recommended me for the Bahamas gig. It was meant to be a week of writing about poker in the Caribbean. It turned into a second career, one that’s allowed me to tell stories, support my family, and travel all over the world.

This story makes sense to very few people who hear it. Why would a man I’ve never met go out of his way to recommend me for a gig? Other people would’ve simply said, “I’m unavailable” and hung up. Wil didn’t do that, and that’s the part of his raison d’être you can’t necessarily divine from Wheaton’s Law. Apart from actively working to not be a bad guy, he quietly works as a life-changing good one.

THE HOLLYWOOD REFRAIN

Harold Ramis died yesterday leaving a lot of folks more than a little sad about the new laughs we’re going to miss. I read one bit from him in which he talked about how creatives—especially those from Hollywood—often don’t think about people other than themselves. In the process, they can miss out on some partnerships that would’ve made their art better.

How am I doing? How am I doing? Which is kind of a refrain in Hollywood, you know,” Ramis said on American Storytellers. “People are desperately trying to make their careers in isolation, independent of everyone around them.”

Wil’s life and career have evolved several times in the last 30 years, and he could’ve been forgiven if he had fallen victim to that Hollywood refrain. Instead, when he was square in the middle of a career shift of his own, Wil kicked open a door for some guy three time zones way.

I’ve thought a lot about that in the ten years I’ve known Wil, but his stealth kindness has felt more pronounced since my dad died unexpectedly a couple of years ago. When Wil called with his condolences, it occurred to me he was cut from the same cloth as my old man. Dad made sure people he cared about had jobs, no-interest loans, or advice when they needed it. When he died, everyone had a story about a quiet favor my dad did for them. Of all the wonderful things Dad did, his legacy is that selflessness attention to helping people for no reason other than he could.

If the lead on the poker gig had been the only kindness Wil offered me, it would’ve been more than enough. Instead, he became a friend and confidante. He introduced me to his treasured family. And one night, he helped me cross a line in my head that I couldn’t have crossed on my own.

HIBACHI

Several years ago, I sat with Wil and his family at a Hibachi joint. While the chef chopped and pounded on the grill, a man sharing our table asked Wil what he did for a living.

“I’m a writer,” he said.

The man turned to me. “What about you?”

“I’m a…”

I couldn’t finish the sentence, because I didn’t feel like there was any honest answer. I’d spent years and years getting paid to tell stories, but I hadn’t achieved what I wanted, and I certainly didn’t know how to answer the guy’s question. What was I? A blogger? A poker reporter? An aspiring novelist?

Wil looked at me, waited a second, and then turned back to the man.

“He’s a writer,” Wil said. And that was that. Back to the onion volcano, shrimp gymnastics, and knife juggling.

For reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense to me, Wil joined my closest friends and family in believing in my writing and championing me to people he knows. It confounds me to this day.

Now, not only have I spent the past ten years telling poker stories, but I’ve also managed to finish a novel and begin work on another. I’ve not yet gotten to where I want to be, but I’m a closer today than I was ten years ago when a guy I didn’t know changed my life. What’s more, I feel comfortable calling myself a writer, and Wil is one very big reason why.

Yeah, Wheaton’s Law may be Wil’s best-known axiom, and it makes for a fine meme. But this is the part that stands out for me: Wil can give a half-hour keynote on how not to be a bad person, but he’ll never tell you about the small kindnesses that make him who he really is. If there is a take-away for the rest of us it’s that we could all do a little better at lending a quiet hand when we don’t have to.

Now, if Wil had just stopped me from eating those crayons…

Guest Post by Stepto: The View from the Back of the Ambulance

This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto currently works at HBO and is the former banhammer at XBox. He is an author, comedian, and leader of The Steptos.

He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

 

Try to imagine this conversation:

Brain: Man. I am getting kinda worried about the fact I’ve had this incredible cold and have not slept but 10 hours over the past 5 days.

Heart: Roger that Brain, engaging the engine at 110%

Brain: No wait I…

Chest: Heart? This is the Chest we’re gonna need to tigthen up a bit here to handle the new load.

Brain: No guys that’s going to make it worse because…

Heart: Make it worse? Roger that! Upping to 120%

Chest: Chest copies! cranking up pressure.

Lungs: Engaging gasping.

Brain: no guys this is going to make this bad because he’s going to think he’s having a heart attack–

Skin: Hey guys, we have the go ahead to go flush and get all clammy just FYI that’s what we’re seeing across the board here.

Lungs: Uh Heart, we’re pushing up respiration to 130% to help move this racing oxygen around. This triggers shortness of breath mode just FYI.

Heart: Brain we can’t keep this pace up how long were you needing this?

Brain: I never asked for–

Eyes: Guy’s I’m seeing some crazy stuff on Webmd regarding heart attacks and I know we have a family history so…

Brain: All right I’m getting angry here, let’s calm down immediately and–

Heart: Angry? Got it, crank it up another 30%.

Chest: Roger that cranking up the tightness.

And this is how I ended up calling 911 with racing heart, intermittent chest pressure, rapid breathing, anxiety etc. All of which had lasted off and on for a couple of hours.

My father’s side has had heart issues, most of my paternal grandfather’s siblings as well as himself died from heart related issues. So when, late Friday night, I began to feel what I thought were ever increasing and clear symptoms of a mild heart attack, I called 911. 911 sent a dispatch team out to the house while I laid down and Rochelle penned up the dogs and got me ready to travel if needs be. My anxiety level began to skyrocket when I realized I had just called an ambulance, sirens and lights blazing, into my “so quiet you can hear someone drop a coke can in another house” neighborhood at 4am on a Saturday morning.

Brain: Jeez I hope they don’t use the siren…

Heart: Aye sir cranking up to—

Brain: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUTUP

They arrived (sans siren) and hooked me up to all manner of bitchin’ equipment to scan my heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and a field EKG. while they shouted scary numbers to each other (“210 over 120″ “96!” “6.0221413e+23″) I got to become increasing agitated while I answered a ton of questions about where did it start, how did I feel etc. All while wearing enough leads and wires that I felt like one of the trees in Avatar.

After a scary few minutes the tech calmed me down. Started asking the “have you been getting sleep? Under stress lately etc.” They reassured me I was in no immediate danger looking over all my vitals and my EKG’s were normal. My heart rate was through the roof so they wanted to go to the ER.

The view through an ambulance was surreal and I guess an experience I have the good fortune to scratch off my bucket list without kicking the bucket. The techs told me all about the various gadgetry and we all geeked out over my iPad mini retina which they allowed me bring. In the interests of their privacy I didn’t want to tweet photos from there since it would be hard in the cramped quarters to remove any distinguishing characteristics but they did a great job in calming me down.

Once at the ER, a crack team of people informed me they would not need to crack open my chest. They ran a blood panel, took X-rays, and ran several EKG’s. About the only disappointment was the X-ray, where the technician put a lead cloth down to “shield my privates from being irradiated” and I complained it was OK, I wanted Hulk privates.

Everything came up Milhouse. I was given an IV of Lorazopram and that niftily settled my brain down. They explained my blood panel was fine, my heart was ok, the EKG’s were fine and that I did not, in fact have a heart attack. Instead I had a very sustained panic attack brought on by a variety of factors, not the least of which was an extreme case of sleep deprivation.

Now, I told you all that to tell you this.

My family on my father’s side as I mentioned has a huge history of sudden heart related death experience, an experience you only get to have once. I quibbled for a few minutes over bothering to call 911 until I remembered that. On the heels of Wil’s post about getting healthy, I wanted to throw out that assuming the presence of insurance (or even not), DO NOT SCREW AROUND with symptoms like the ones I had. It’s always better to know it’s not a heart event than it is to drop dead being so very thankful you didn’t wake your neighbors with the ambulance siren.