Dark Days, Bright Days

Guest blogger, Will Hindmarch, is a writer and designer in Chicago. You might know his work from the book design for Memories of the Future, Volume 1 or from RPGs like Always/Never/Now.

There I was, alone outside an unfamiliar hotel-room door, with nowhere to hide. It was too late to flee. I had already knocked.

My newest tabletop RPG design was in my bag, ready to make a first impression. I felt like I had worms in my guts.  I thought I could feel my brain’s insidious chemicals  diluting the meds I take to keep my head above the waves. I took a breath, let it out.

Settle down, you idiot, I thought to myself. Just don’t be a dick.

Someone worked the latch on the door. It swung open.

“Hey, how are you?” Wil Wheaton asked, doorknob in hand. “Come on in.”

I went inside.  But I’d already made my first mistake. It went into my mood like a drop of dye clouding into clear water.

Did you catch it?

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This is a story about dogs being cute. It does not involve them shitting.

There’s a small, yappy dog in our neighborhood. It has terrible owners who leave it outside all the time, and whenever it’s outside, it barks nonstop. I feel bad for the dog, because it’s clearly lonely and stressed, and I really dislike the owners for not being more responsible with their pet.

For the longest time, when that little dog would get going, our dogs would run into the backyard and start barking with it. This created a delightful feedback loop that was actually the opposite of delightful.

I’ve used positive reinforcement to train all of our dogs, so to stop them from this behavior, I started saying to them, “Hey! What do we do when that dog barks?” and giving them treats when they were quiet. After a few weeks of this, when that dog barks, they just go straight to the place in the kitchen where we keep the treats, sit, and wait for us to reward them. It’s been really awesome, and just saying “What do we do?” calms them down whenever they get worked up at anything outside, from people walking dogs to helicopters flying overhead, to the mailman delivering our tacos.

Seamus is a really smart dog, and he picks up on things really fast. Riley isn’t nearly as smart, and Marlowe is probably going to end up being as smart as Seamus, just as soon as she learns a little more self-control and better manners (she’s only 18 months, but she’s right on pace, as far as we’re concerned.) Seamus has figured out that he can bark once at absolutely nothing, then calm himself down, and go wait for treats. The other dogs usually run into the kitchen and join him.  I don’t mind him thinking that he’s tricking us, because it just further reinforces the behavior we want, anyway.

So a couple of nights ago, Marlowe was next to Seamus, chewing on an antler* in the living room, and Seamus wanted it. He’s above her in pack status, so he could probably just take it, but he’s not like that with her. I watched him look at her, look at me in the kitchen, then look back at her. He barked once, and stood up. Marlowe jumped up, dropped the antler, and raced into the kitchen to the place where the treats are. Seamus calmly laid down, picked up the antler, and began to chew.

“Dude, that was amazing,” I said to him. I gave Marlowe a consolation treat, as he closed his eyes and chewed, contentedly.

*This is the best thing ever, for aggressive chewers. They are humanely gathered from places where they’ve already fallen off the deer or elk or whatever, washed and sterilized, and cut into varying lengths. It’s natural, doesn’t run the risks associated with bits of plastic or rawhide, and a large one lasts for about six months with Seamus and Marlowe, who are incredibly aggressive chewers.

This is all about dogs taking shits. If that sort of thing grosses you out, don’t read it.

This is all about dogs taking shits. If that sort of thing grosses you out, don’t read it.

I walked out into the backyard, and got the dog-shit-picker-upper-thing out of the place where it lives. I carried it to the lawn, and began using it for its prescribed purpose.

After a couple of scoops, Marlowe joined me on the lawn. “You guys sure do poop a lot,” I said. She looked at me with sweet eyes and a pibble smile.

I continued to pick up their dirty, sinful business, and Riley arrived. She surveyed the situation, and decided to take a huge shit in the middle of the yard. “Thanks for not waiting until I put this away, Piles,” I said.

I turned my back to her and worked my way toward the back of the lawn. The sun was warm on my back, a very light breeze rustling the leaves on the camphor trees.

I turned around just in time to see Marlowe eating Riley’s poop.

“Goddammit, Marlowe! Stop eating shit!” I said.

She took a few steps away from me, looking guiltily back over her shoulder. “That is so gross, dude. Don’t do that!”

She looked at me, hunched her back, and pooped. I’m pretty sure she was thinking, “I’m sorry. Here, let me put it back.”

 

 

Ticket to Ride: Europe is on today’s Tabletop

Today, we release one of my favourite episodes of the season, Ticket To Ride: Europe, with John Kovalic, Emma Caulfield, and my lovely wife, Anne Wheaton.

John does the incredibly wonderful comic Dork Tower, and this week he’s been doing a Tabletop storyline that you may enjoy.

Emma is an amazing actor, vlogger, writer, and awesome human.

Anne does a whole bunch of awesome things, including VandalEyes and Rescue Pets Are Awesome. She also runs our charitable foundation, created the celebrity pet adoption calendar for the Wiggle Waggle Walk (raising over $50,000 for Pasadena Humane Society), and for some mysterious reason agreed to marry me.

This episode was really fun to shoot, even if the game ended up being the most intense, focused, serious game we’ve ever played on Tabletop.

I hope you enjoy it, and remember to send me your pictures and stories about your own Tabletop gaming, so I can share them with the world.

OH! OH! OH! And get ready for the second annual International Tabletop Day, which is happening April 5.

It isn’t type casting. It’s smart casting.

Over at my Tumblr ask thingy, therondraith asked:

Why do you always end up playing the asshole in your various acting roles? You’re good at it, but it seems to be an unfortunate typecast.

All actors have a particular role that they’re best suited to play, and when they play those roles, they really connect with the audience.

For example: John Travolta is amazing at playing The Loveable Loser. That’s who he was in Welcome Back Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever, and audiences freaking LOVED him. When the studios tried to make him The Leading Man, in films like Urban Cowboy, Perfect, and something else I’m forgetting right now, audiences turned on him and his career started to flounder.

He didn’t do much of note for a very long time, until Tarantino cast him as a junkie hit man in Pulp Fiction. Suddenly, he’s playing the Loveable Loser again, and his career explodes with roles in Michael, and something else that I’m forgetting right now (it’s 5am and I’m on 4 hours of sleep).

So, when he’s playing that archetype, audiences connect with him on a subconscious level, because it’s the type he plays so perfectly.

The type I play so perfectly, it turns out, is that guy you love to hate, that guy who antagonizes your hero, but who actually has a good heart, when he forgets that he’s being an asshole. That’s who I play in The Guild, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory. I don’t know why I play those roles so effectively (it may be related to how much I like to sass people in real life), but it’s what I’ve been doing for a few years, and it’s no coincidence that my acting career has had a bit of a resurgence as a result.

I don’t consider it typecasting, I consider it smart casting, and I wish that more casting people would understand what type I play, and give me a chance to work in those roles.

Oh, and remember: the villain is the hero of his own story, so even though I’m playing an asshole you love to hate, from that character’s point of view, he isn’t doing anything wrong. For example, Doctor Parrish on Eureka was an antagonist to Fargo and Carter, but from Parrish’s point of view, he was the smartest guy in the room, and he was just baffled that he was the only one who could see it. As a result, he resented having to answer to Fargo, who he viewed as someone who didn’t deserve to go to Titan, be the Director of GD, or get the girl. He resented having to deal with Carter, who wasn’t even a scientist, but was always telling him what to do. At the end of the day, though, Parrish loved GD, loved the town, and would tolerate working with people he thought weren’t as smart as him, because he believed in doing the right thing for science.

Thanks for your question.

on a long run, on a long run

I went to my doctor yesterday, and told him how crummy I’ve been feeling. We talked about a lot of different things, and ultimately decided that it was probably a good idea to change up my brain pills. This morning, I started something new, and I really feel a lot better. I honestly don’t care if it’s a placebo effect at this point, but the end result is the same: I don’t feel despondent, depressed, and shitty about myself.

“You are very hard on yourself,” he told me yesterday.

“I know,” I said, “I just have really high expectations that I want to meet, and with all these incredibly successful friends …” I trailed off because I felt like I was starting to feel sorry for myself.

“Being judgmental about what you make or don’t make doesn’t help you at all,” he said, “you have to do your best every day, even if your best isn’t what you want it to be.”

I knew he was right, and I knew that it was my depression getting in between me knowing that was right, and accepting that it was right. That’s one of the incredibly frustrating things about depression: I can know that the way I feel is just my brain chemicals being messed up, but whether I accept it or not, the end result is the same: I feel awful. It’s a little unfair that it doesn’t work in both directions, but after living with it for my whole life, I can tell you that depression doesn’t care about being fair; it’s really a dick that way.

My doctor said that I was very clear-eyed about my mental illness (psychologists call people like me “the identified patient”), and because I could be rational even when I was feeling irrational, he wanted me to try some cognitive therapy. “When you feel bad, when you are thinking and feeling that you’re worthless or anything like that, I want you to recognize it, and then make an effort to replace those bad feelings with good ones.

“When you are feeling bad about a job you didn’t get, think about a job that you did get, that you feel good about. When you feel bad about not finishing a story, recognize that feeling, and remember how you felt when you published something you’re proud of.”

“That sounds like something I can do,” I said, “and it sounds like it may help me break out of the cycle of depression telling me a suck, then making me feel terrible because I believe that I suck, which makes me depressed, which lets depression tell me that I suck.” I imagined a particularly ugly ouroboros wrapping itself around me.

I don’t think this means that I don’t allow myself to feel disappointment, or frustration, or any of the other emotions that I think we all need to feel to be a fully-functional human. I think this means that I don’t let my mental illness take something like feeling unsure about where a story goes next and turning it into the Very Certain And Unshakable Belief That I Am A Worthless And Stupid And Idiotic Loser Who Everyone Knows Really Sucks. Not, um, that I’ve felt like that a whole lot lately, or anything like that. Um. Right.

So.

Let’s get started, shall we? This weekend, Anne and I went to the mall to pick up some fancy pants I had tailored. While we were there, we noticed that the big old men’s clothing sale was happening, yadda yadda yadda I got three awesome suits for less than the cost of one, if they weren’t on sale.

Guys: it turns out that your beautiful wife telling you, “WOW, you look great in that suit,” is a powerful motivator for buying that suit. And two others. Because reasons.

After we were finished getting them tailored, Anne had to get on the phone to handle a bunch of #VandalEyes business, so I went into the bookstore until she was done. On my way to the Science Fiction section, I stopped to take this picture of their Tabletop game section:

tabletopgames

While I was taking this picture, a young man cautiously approached me. “Mister … Mister Wheaton?” He said.

“That’s me!” I said.

“I love your show Tabletop! You are the reason my friends and I play games, and I’m actually here today to find something for one of them.”

I put my phone into my pocket. “That is really awesome,” I said. “The main reason I make Tabletop is to inspire other people to play games.”

He swallowed, nodded, and said, “um, would you, uh … would you help me pick out a game for my friend?”

My heart grew three sizes. “I would love to do that!”

I asked him a bunch of questions about the games they like to play together, his friend’s level of experience, and how much he wanted to spend. Ultimately, he settled on Ticket To Ride. He shook my hand, thanked me several times, and walked away, happily.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” a voice said behind me. I turned and saw a young woman with a nametag that indicated she worked in the store.

“Yes?” I said.

“This is my section,” she said, pointing to the games, “and it’s here because of your show, Tabletop.”

My heart grew another three sizes.

“We order all the games you play on your show, and we usually sell out of whatever you’ve just played right away.”

“That’s really cool!” I said.

We talked about the games that she had in the section, and I recommended a few new ones for her, including Hive, Love Letter, and Coup.

“I’ll see if I can convince my manager to let me order those,” she said. “Anyway, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I just wanted to thank you for your show, and for everything you do.”

“It’s my pleasure,” I said, “and it really means a lot to me that you took the time to tell me that.” I started to walk back to the Sci-Fi Books, and stopped. I turned back. “If your distributor doesn’t know what’s coming up on Tabletop — and they should, but if they don’t — please e-mail me and I’ll give you the release schedule, so you can know what to order.”

“That would be great,” she said.

“Awesome.” We shook hands, and I walked back to the Sci-Fi books. Before I could really figure out if I was going to get anything, my phone chirped in my pocket. It was Anne. She was off the phone, and didn’t want to go on a quest to find me in the store. “I’ll be right out,” I replied.

I walked past that Tabletop game section, which was absolutely huge — even bigger than the entire Sci-Fi and Fantasy book section, combined, and a little voice in my head said, “it’s okay to feel a little proud about this.” I listened to it.

I’m still frustrated and disappointed when I see a character on a TV show or in a film that I clearly could have played, but didn’t even get to audition for (a casting director recently told my agent that they would not even see me for a role, because “Wil Wheaton can’t play someone in his late 30s,” even though I’m 41, with two children in their 20s, and just letting me spend thirty fucking seconds in their goddamn office to see how I look now and how I interpret the role may change their mind). I’m still frustrated and disappointed that I haven’t produced any original work of fiction of any consequence in a year, and that I haven’t finished Memories of the Future Volume 2.

BUT — and it’s a big but* — instead of focusing on those things, and feeling like I’m being crushed into a singularity by a black hole of depression, I can look at the show I created and brought to life with some very talented people, that is having a very real and lasting impact on a lot of people, in a very positive way.

When I look at the writing I haven’t finished, I can look at the calendar and see all the times I was working on a video game or an audiobook or an animated show, and was on the road to promote Tabletop, and honestly accept that there just wasn’t that much time to write the things I wanted to write, because I was busy working on other things.

I can stop being so hard on myself, and I can stop judging myself, and I can stop holding myself up to standards that are so high, even the people I’m comparing myself to every day would have a hard time reaching them.

Or, at least, I can try, and I can do my best, because that’s all I can do.

*hurr hurr hurr

here i dreamt

A couple days ago, I turned on asks at my Tumblr thing, because it felt like a way to participate in the Tumblr community. It’s been silly and fun, and — in the case of this one — a little cathartic.

tumblr_ask

If you can’t read the image, here’s what it says:

I’m afraid to ask this ? But.. Do you plan on making any other movies? Are any in the works? Truly you are a great actor, both funny and serious. I admire you Greatly!

I honestly don’t know. My career is pretty great at the moment, in terms of steady employment and creatively satisfying work, but it feels like Hollywood isn’t interested in seeing me work as an actor in movies.

It’s a strange and frustrating and ultimately depressing reality for me that most casting people would rather discover someone new (so they can say “I discovered that guy!” when he wins an award or has a breakout role) than give someone like me a chance. This is something I’ve struggled with a lot lately, and I think it’s one of the reasons I feel so depressed.

When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted a studio to make a Sandman movie, but I hoped that they’d wait until I was older, so I could work in it. Thanks to the arrogance of youth, it never occurred to me that there would come a day where I just wouldn’t be cast in films (or the really great cable series that seem to have replaced films) anymore. It didn’t occur to me that, if that Sandman movie got made when I was an adult, I wouldn’t have a chance to be in it, or even a chance to audition.

What I may have to do, if I really want to showcase myself as a dramatic actor who is worth casting, is make a short film entirely on my own and release it online. At worst, I’ll have created something I’m proud of and enjoyed the process of creating. At best, I’ll create a sort of long-form audition reel that (hopefully) casting people can’t ignore.

Thanks for your question. This is something that’s been on my mind, but I haven’t been able to talk about.

Also, thank you for your kindness yesterday. You know who you are.

and i am nothing of a builder

When you really want to write something — anything at all — but your goddamn depression is sitting on your chest, making it really really hard to even reach the keyboard, so you end up with a folder of abandoned drafts.

And you feel like shit because you aren’t making anything, or creating anything, or actually doing anything.  And you desperately want to make something, but whenever you start, depression wraps itself around you and whispers in your ear, “Why bother? You know how much you suck.”

And you know that depression lies, but you listen to it anyway, and you don’t even know why, but you do. It’s like you can’t tune it out and ignore it, even though it’s getting in between you and the thing you love to do more than anything else.

And that folder of abandoned drafts starts to feel like a monument to your own failure, and even though you could just delete it, you don’t because you know there’s something decent in there, and you just have to find it somehow.

Because you know that you have a good life, and you know that you do some cool things, and you know that you can make things, that you have made things, you decide to stand up, even with the weight of depression doing everything it can to hold you down.

And you struggle. And you push. And you struggle some more.

And finally you stand up. And you take a deep breath, and then you fall down again.

And then you try to stand up again, and you start to wonder if you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, but then depression reminds you that you’re not feeling sorry for yourself, you’re just acknowledging that you’re the least talented of all your friends and everyone knows it but you.

And then you remember that depression lies, so you keep trying to stand up and push it off, and believe in yourself.

And it’s really fucking hard.

ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and Conventions

Reader R writes:

Dear Wil,

I wonder if you could give me some advice. My daughter Ella is 10 years old and is really getting into Star Trek, particularly Voyager and DS9. She’s even started drawing her own fan fic comic about Odo and Quark. So we thought we’d take her to a con.

The problem is, she has ADHD and mood disorder, and me and my husband both have depression/anxiety. So places that are crowded and have lots of long lines are hard for us, collectively.

I’m wondering if you can recommend a con that’s particularly well-run so that we can help our daughter enjoy the experience. We understand that we’ll have to manage waits ourselves, we won’t get help like we do at Disney World, but I can imagine that some cons are completely packed with people and it would be hard to find a quiet space to give Ella a break from the crowds or a food vendor that can serve us in a reasonable amount of time.

Any advice you have would be appreciated. I imagine you’ve developed mad skills for surviving a con while anxious.

Oh, and we live on the east coast (came to your NY show with Paul and Storm–awesome!) so a show on this side of the country would be great. And if there are games there, so much the better.

I have both  anxiety and depression, and a combination of medication and therapy helps me deal with the lovely* things they do to me. When I’m at a convention, if I start to feel that overwhelming feeling of being trapped in the trash compactor, I can duck out into a quiet place until I’m able to get C-3P0 to shut down the power on that level, but if someone has spent time and money to get to a con, that’s probably not something they want to do.

I don’t really have a good answer for R, but I thought that maybe some of you who read my blog may have personal experience that you could share about dealing with mental health issues when you’re at a con.

 

*and by ‘lovely’, I mean ‘not lovely at all’.

From the Vault: respect yourself

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

Laws of Modern Man 233

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong