The year is 1994. I am 21 years-old, and though I’m convinced I’m so mature, I’m having a hard time finding my way out of a 10×10 room with one door and a map. I’m struggling to figure out who I am, what’s important to me, and what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve spent some time working for NewTek (making really embarrassing videos), and while I’m very proud of the work I’ve contributed to the Video Toaster 4000, something just doesn’t feel exactly right in my life. I’m not sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
I’m adrift in a sea of post-teenage confusion, and I’m profoundly immature. Luckily, I am self-aware enough to know how little I know, so I’ve been attempting to educate myself about the world. I’ve been reading philosophy books, because that seems like something smart, insightful people do … but I’ve gotten wrapped up in Beyond Good and Evil and become something of an obnoxious fucking intellectual.
I will eventually grow out of it, but at this moment, in 1994, I’m dealing with the aftermath of being this guy for my entire life to this point, and it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s pretty goddamn painful, but I don’t know how to talk about it or deal with it, so I project this aura of overconfidence that, in retrospect, is pretty embarrassing.
Yet something important happens at this moment in 1994, and it happens on a Star Trek cruise in Alaska. It will change my life, set me on a long and meandering course out of the sea of uncertainty and toward the man I will eventually become. It happens because I find out I am expected to perform with the other actors on the cruse in a talent show, and I am forced to confront the reality that I don’t have any talents beyond acting, and I’m not sure I’m even very good at that.
So I take a walk around the deck of this ship, and instead of pretending to be deep in thought like usual, I actually think. I really think about who I am and what’s important to me, and wonder what I can contribute to this talent show. Honestly? I’m terrified. I feel like a fraud. I wonder if there’s a way I can just sneak out of this thing and not be part of it. Then I remember that I’m on a boat and the water around me is very cold. I keep walking past Star Trek fans — very nice people, every last one of them — and forcing a smile, with some occasional small talk. I’m afraid someone will ask me what my plans are for the talent show, but nobody does.
I don’t remember exactly how I got there, but I eventually found myself alone in the ship’s library. It was quiet, peaceful. I sat in a comfortable chair and looked out the window at the breathtaking Alaskan coastline.
What am I going to do? How can I do anything as entertaining as the other actors? René Auberjonois is going to sing a song from Beauty and the Beast, for fuck’s sake! I hate myself! Why did I leave Star Trek? Why did I do Liar’s Club? Why did I do The Curse? Why can’t I do something better than Stand By Me? Why aren’t I famous and successful? Why am I living in Kansas instead of LA? What am I doing with my life?
I sat there for a long time, wallowing in self pity and self loathing, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, I had an idea.
I write stories from time to time, and they’re not all that bad. Maybe I could write an essay…
I jumped out of the chair, grabbed a few sheets of paper from an empty table nearby, and wrote across the top of it:
In Defence of Nerds by Wil Wheaton
I started where all 21 year-olds who think they’re clever and insightful start an essay: a dictionary definition.
Nerd – (nurd) n. slang. 1. a stupid, irritating, ineffectual or unattractive person.
Yep, that’s me.
I continued to write for three pages, philosophically pontificating the titular defense (oh, excuse me, I’m very cultured so I use the British spelling – defence) of nerds. What I didn’t know at the time and didn’t realize until just now is that I was writing both a defense and defiant declaration of who I was. For three pages, I defined myself by the things that were important to me — being a nerd and loving nerd things — instead of allowing myself to be defined by who I was — a former child actor who was struggling to find his ass with both hands.
When I finished writing, I felt pretty good about myself and what I’d written. I felt empowered. I felt a little less lame. The talent show I had been dreading couldn’t come soon enough, so I could take the stage and prove to the world that I was more than just a former child actor who had quit Star Trek and was now regretting it. (This may sound familiar to those of you who have read Just A Geek.)
I was on near the end of the program, if I remember correctly. I tucked my pages into my copy of Beyond Good and Evil (because, you see, I had to impress everyone with my deep understanding of Nietzsche, who was relevant to the essay, for, uh, reasons) and walked up onto the stage.
“I hate talent shows,” I began with self-deprecating humor, “because they remind me how singularly talented I actually am.”
Some laughter came out of the audience, and I finished introducing myself. I began reading my essay. I can’t recall specifically how the entire thing unfolded — it was almost 20 years ago, after all — but I do recall that it went well, that the audience enjoyed it.
I ended with: “…I will remind my critics that Albert Einsten, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates are all nerds and non-conformists.” I paused dramatically. “My name is Wil Wheaton – and I am a Nerd.”
In my memory, which I want to make extremely clear is not entirely reliable, the audience went crazy with applause, even though I’d had the audacity to compare myself to Einstein, Hawking, and Gates. Ah, the blind arrogance and surety of the 21 year-old philosopher, right?
In the years that followed, I’d occasionally think back to this day in 1994 when I wrote and performed something in public for the first time. I would wonder if it was as good as I remembered or as bad as I feared. I looked for the essay whenever I moved, but I never found it.
Until this weekend.
Going through my garage, clearing out space to build a homebrewery in there, I opened boxes that I haven’t opened since 1995 when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own. Those boxes were mostly filled with books that I didn’t want or need, and they painted a clear picture of who I was back then: lots of SF and Fantasy books, how-to guides on programming in C++, every book Henry Rollins had written up to that point, volume after volume of William Burroughs and some of the Beat writers. There were books on film and acting, and a large number of philosophy books. Among the philosophy books was Beyond Good And Evil.
“Ugh,” I thought to myself, “I know why I haven’t looked in these boxes in years. I was such an insufferable douchebag back then. I should have listened more and talked less.”
I grabbed the book and tossed it into the donation box. It landed on its front, with its spine facing me. I turned back to the box I was emptying, and my eye caught some pieces of paper, folded up and shoved into the book, like a bookmark.
I slowly turned back and looked at them for a long time, not sure I wanted to see what 1994 me had to say, but very sure that I had no choice. I slowly reached out for the book and picked it up. I turned it over, cringed, and pulled out the papers. I unfolded them and saw “In Defence of Nerds by Wil Wheaton”
I sat down and read the entire thing. It’s … well, it’s written by the 21 year-old I’ve described above.
I kept it, and I scanned it this morning because it’s something I’d like to make sure I have forever.
Would you like to see it?
Here it is:
It’s not as good as I remember it, but it’s not as bad as I feared. It’s the very best 21 year-old me could do, and I’m proud of him for taking the chance, facing the fear of being laughed off the stage, and speaking passionately about something that mattered to him (that still matters to me).
I’m glad that, on that day in 1994, I set aside pretending to think about things and actually thought about things. It was a small but important step toward finding my way into the life I now have. In fact, if I looked around at the foundation upon which I built my adult life, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that essay awfully close to the keystone.
I got into Austin just after 11 last night, exhausted and still feeling pretty lousy from the cold I got in Seattle last week.
I made my way to baggage claim and looked for whoever was meeting me from the convention, but didn’t see anyone. There were about half a dozen drivers, but none of them held signs with my name on them. I figured the person meeting me was parking a car or something, and went to the baggage carousel to get my suitcase and box of pictures and books.
While I waited, a couple of different people asked me if I was that guy from The Big Bang Theory. Though I was so tired I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I summoned some extra energy and answered their questions, posed for a couple of pictures, and was grateful that I get to do a job that I not only love, but that people enjoy.
Bags came down the ramp, and while I looked for mine, I also looked around for whoever was supposed to be meeting me. I found the contact number of the guy who was supposed to meet me, and left him a voicemail. “Maybe he’s parking a car or something,” I hoped. Then, “I hope nothing happened to this guy on his way to the airport.”
When I got my suitcase and my box of stuff, I waited for about ten minutes. Still, nothing. So I walked around the whole area, still looking, getting more and more cranky (being exhausted and on the tail end of a really nasty cold will do that to you) until I decided to walk outside, get in a taxi (it was now almost midnight) and just get to the hotel so I could go to sleep.
A little after midnight, I got into my room and got ready for bed. I called Anne to tell her I was safely here, put out my clothes for today, took a shower, and went to sleep.
I had one of those nights where I have incredibly clear dreams that I can’t explain in a way that would make any sense at all to someone who wasn’t in them. The dreams felt upsetting, though. I woke up a few times feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, because in my dreams I was running or struggling to stay on this ramp thing that was sort of like a bobsled and also something from Tron (I told you it wouldn’t make sense).
When my alarm went off, I got up, made some coffee — excuse me, “coffee” — and ordered my breakfast. I derped around on Reddit while I waited for breakfast to arrive, and sipped my “coffee”.
The phone rang, and I thought it was room service delivering breakfast, stymied by the DO NOT DISTURB sign I hung on the door when I went to sleep ten hours earlier. It was someone from the convention, confirming that I was here, and asking when I wanted to meet up to go to the show this afternoon.
I told her that I was here, what time I thought we should meet, and then, “I also have to tell you that there was nobody to meet me at the airport last night, and it made me kind of cranky.”
She told me that a car service was supposed to pick me up, but someone from that car service called her this morning and said — and you’re going to want to sit down for this — that the driver saw me, but that I “ran away from him to get into a taxi.”
I know, right? Now, I can just laugh about it, because it’s so absurd, but about an hour ago, I was furious to hear that.
Look, I’ve raised two kids, and I haven’t heard such a lame bullshit excuse for someone fucking up since they were in middle school. So based on that line, I have to assume this is what happened in the driver’s head:
1. Where is the person I’m supposed to pick up?
2. Oh, there he is! He’s been sitting there with his bags for close to 20 minutes. I’d better not bother him.
3. Hey, he’s calling someone. Yeah, definitely don’t talk to him. That would be rude.
4. Huh. Well, that’s weird. He’s walking around looking for someone. I wonder who? I’ll just wait for him to come over and find me.
5. Maybe I should hold up a thing with his name on it.
6. Nah, that’s silly. He’ll just know that I’m the only driver here with no sign and figure it out!
7. Is … is he going outside? I guess I should do my job now and tell him I’m here to pick him up.
8. Oh, maybe not. He’s slowly walking with sixty pounds of suitcase and box — uh, I mean, running! Yeah! Running! Away from me for some reason and toward the taxi line. I guess he doesn’t need a ride, after all.
9. I am awesome at my job! I can’t wait to tell everyone about this!
Like I said, I can only laugh about it now, but last night? Ohhhhh was I mad. And when I heard the lamest excuse since “my teacher doesn’t want me to use a black pen and that’s all I have so I can’t do my homework tonight I guess I’ll just play video games instead”, I got even more mad. I mean, at least have the decency and respect to own up to making a mistake, instead of inventing a stupid excuse that insults not only my intelligence, but also offends the entire concept of excuse making.
So I told the person on the phone that this story was bullshit. She agreed with me that it seemed awfully strange, and then we both just sort of sat there in silence for a moment. It was like we both needed to process that, yes, an adult person actually said that and expected other adult persons to believe it.
I’m still a little annoyed when I think about it, to be honest, but that’s mostly because I still don’t feel completely well and my already low tolerance for bullshit is taking a -5 penalty. Ultimately, though, it was a minor inconvenience (that wouldn’t even have been a big deal if I wasn’t so tired and not feeling 100% healthy) that ended up giving me a moderately amusing story, so … I turned those lemurs into lemurade.
I’m on vacation in Hawaii (ON VACATION FROM WHAT WIL WHEATON HA HA I KNOW) with Anne.
We’ve had an absolutely amazing trip, relaxing and reading and swimming and having beers and mostly just enjoying that, after a year spent mostly apart due to my work, we finally get ten days together.
Well, today, a shitbag decided to intrude on our private vacation. He set himself up on the beach where we’re staying, pulled out a telephoto lens, and decided to take pictures of us for hours this morning.
I saw this guy around 10 this morning, and I thought to myself, “No, that guy isn’t taking my picture; I’m just being paranoid. Nobody cares about me enough to camp out on a beach and take that kind of paparazzi picture.”
Around 3, Anne and I got up from the beach, and walked back to our condo to make lunch. I saw the same guy, in the same place, with the same camera. I sort of glared at him, and he said something to me that I couldn’t hear.
“What?” I said.
“I said, ‘thank you, Wil.'” He said.
“Dude, I’m on vacation, and taking pictures like that of me and my wife isn’t cool. Would you please delete them?” I said.
“Sorry, brah,” he said, “I gotta make a living.”
“Are you serious?” I said. “I’m just trying to be on vacation with my wife, man.”
“Sorry, brah,” he said.
I absorbed the reality of what this parasite had done, and I said, “Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit.”
“Hey, if you don’t like it, go home, brah,” he said.
I was enraged. I was shaking and sick to my stomach. I walked back to my condo, and ate a sandwich (delicious PB&J with Guava Jam!) while I processed the invasion of my privacy I’d just experienced.
I was furious that this piece of shit would spend hours sitting on a beach, taking I don’t even know how many pictures of us, and then have the audacity to tell me that I should just go home if I didn’t like it. Like I was in the wrong for expecting to enjoy some time on the beach without some fucking creep using a telephoto lens to take pictures of me.
While I ate my sandwich (SO GOOD OMG) and finished my Bikini Blonde Lager, I hatched a scheme: Anne and I would render this subhuman pile of shit’s photos worthless (more worthless than they already are, because who gives a fuck about me in a bathing suit) by taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on Twitter.
So that’s what we did. And now I’m posting them here.
Thanks for giving me an anxiety attack in the middle of my vacation, brah. Good luck selling your fucking pictures, you piece of shit. Maybe go find something worthwhile to do with your life, like use that camera to take pictures of the beauty in Maui, instead of playing at being a paparazzo and making someone feel really uncomfortable when they’re just trying to enjoy some quiet time with their wife.
And now: my flabby, nerdy, 40 year-old self… and my amazingly beautiful wife:
And me, in all of my flabby, 40 year-old nerd glory:
Die in a fire, paparazzo guy. Die in a fire, brah.
When I was in Montreal for Comicon, I had this idea to open my talk with a little bit of French. I’d apologize for not really knowing much French, but through the magic of Google Translate, I could say “good morning Montreal…” and a few other things. It would quickly fall apart into “my hovercraft is full of eels” territory, and we’d all have a good laugh at the stupid American.
The problem was, even though I had the computer talking to me and the words right in front of me, I couldn’t learn it, because French is hard. Then, I got worried that the audience would think maybe I was making fun of their language and culture, instead of my own. So I shelved the bit, and instead explained what I was going to do and why I didn’t do it. Very meta, Wheaton.
Oh? How nice of you to notice. Thanks.
So my talk (which I’ve learned is called a “conference” in Montreal) opened with that bit of pseudo humour, and then moved into what I thought was a really nice discussion about gaming and how much I love being a nerd.
At one point — and I can’t remember how exactly it came up — I mentioned something about the Stanley Cup, which turned into something about how 1993 was soooooo long ago*, which turned into something about the Maple Leafs**.
I engaged in some good-natured gloating about my beloved Los Angeles Kings being the Stanley Cup champions, and when 1500 people rightfully booed and hollered at me, here was my response:
“Yes! Yes! Your tears taste so good!” I declared. Then, we all had a good laugh together.
As the moment passed, I realized that I had made a careful and deliberate choice to not insult the audience’s language and culture … so I insulted their religion instead.
Yesterday at the Montreal Comicon, a guy asked me if I would play Rock, Paper, Scissors with him. Of course I said yes.
I read him as a paper guy, so when we counted to three, I went scissors. He held up three fingers.
“What the hell is that?!” I may have almost shouted, every fibre of my being offended by the deviation from accepted Rock, Paper, Scissors norms.
“That’s the W,” he said. “It means that you automatically win.”
Just as quickly, I abandoned my blind adherence to the aforementioned norms, thrust my arms into the sky in the universal pose of victory, and made shouty noises about how I was so great.
But then … then … then it got awesome. He pulled a roll of duct tape out of his backpack, and he wrote my name on a piece of the tape, just like I do at the end of every episode of Tabletop . He held it out to me and said, “Now, for the rest of the day, everyone who sees you will know that your name is Wil, and you’re a winner.” (Just like I do at the end of each episode of Tabletop).
I shouted again, jumped out of my chair and asked him to take a picture with me, and then shouted some more.
I’m incredibly lucky and incredibly grateful that people care at all about the things I make, and it never fails to blow my mind that so many people, like this guy, do awesome things inspired by the stuff I do.
The picture below is me, wearing my winner’s tape, sitting in the Montreal airport while I wait for my flight home to board.
“Will my talk be moderated, or am I setting the agenda?” I asked Dan, my convention liaison, as we got ready to head across the show floor to the theater were I’d be speaking.
He told me that I wasn’t moderated, and I could spend the hour however I wanted. I grabbed a copy of Sunken Treasure off my table and began putting together my mental setlist.
When we got into the theater, the Munchkin episode of Tabletop was playing on giant screens. About a thousand people were watching it while more people filled the remaining seats.
I’m not going to lie, Marge: seeing my show on a screen, ten feet tall and luminous, was awesome.
While I waited to go on stage, I looked through the book in my hands. I love the stories I put in there, but none of them really felt right. I cursed my damn brain for forgetting to remind me to remember to bring my iPad to the con, so I had access to the complete works of me, Wil Wheaton, to choose from.
I looked up at the back of the screen, and saw myself playing games with my friends … and I knew exactly what I’d talk about.
When I was introduced, I walked out to a wonderful audience that made me feel like I was playing for the home team the entire time I was out there, even when I teased all of Canada about my Los Angeles Kings having the Stanley Cup. It was a great hour, where I spent about half talking about why I created Tabletop, and why gaming is so important to me. The second half I spent taking questions from the audience, talking about things from Sparks McGee to Stand By Me.
Even though I’m supremely jet lagged, and my scumbag brain has woke me up in the middle of the night and kept me awake for an hour two nights in a row that I’ve been here, I felt invigorated and damn good when I walked off that stage.
I know the talk was filmed and recorded. I hope it shows up online.
This is where I’d put a clever segue, if I wasn’t so fucking deliriously tired. Here are some pictures I took yesterday at the convention:
This adorable drawing was done by this adorable lady.
I ran into two of my favourite people, and their booking agent photobombed us.
When someone asks you to sign a poster of the cast of Firefly, YOU! SAY! YES!
And then you sign right across Nathan Fillion’s junk.
So the the face I think I’m making is “oh my god this is so cute!” But it turns out that the face I’m actually making is Overly Attached Wil Wheaton.
The day ended with a game of Settlers of Catan. I started out fairly well, and then got trapped against the coast with 6 points. Luckily, I was able to build out toward the center of the board, get another city, and WIN THE FUCKING GAME with largest army and longest road.
I got so excited, I jumped up onto my chair, and nearly fell off the damn thing. I know the entire game was filmed by some guys, and I assume it will get online at some point. I’m red, if you want to try to put it all together. We’re playing on a beautiful, giant board.
I ended the day having a local beer (Maudite by Unibroue) with my friend Sam Witwer, who it turns out is on location in Montreal.
In about an hour, I’ll check out of my hotel and go back to the con for the final day. If the previous two days are any indication, it’s going to be great.