This morning, I gave a keynote at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival. Here are my prepared remarks.
Good morning. My name is Wil Wheaton. I am the New York Times bestselling author of Still Just A Geek. My narration of Ready Player One debuted at number one on the same list. I created, produced, and hosted the series Tabletop on Geek & Sundry, and I currently host The Ready Room, your online hub for all things Star Trek Universe.
I am so proud and grateful for all of that. I have an amazing life doing what I love. I’ve been married for 24 years to my best friend, Anne. We have two amazing kids, a pretty great dog, and a cat who allows us to believe we are in charge. I get to travel all over, talking to audiences like this, about things that are important to me.
I’m going to say it again: I have a fantastic life.
To get here, I had to survive what most of you probably know me from: my childhood acting career. In 1985, when I was 12, I starred in Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, which has gone on to become a generational classic. At 14, I was cast as Wesley Crusher, in Star Trek: The Next Generation. 35 years later, I am introduced at science fiction conventions as an elder in the community, representing Legacy Star Trek.
I was really good at it, but I never wanted to be an actor. My mom forced me to do it, and gaslighted me about that truth until I finally had no choice but to end contact with both of my parents, so I could work on healing the CPTSD I have carried for as long as I can remember.
Today, I am a full-time writer and part-time host. I’m as happy and fulfilled as I have ever been, and for the first time in my life, I am doing what I want to do, what is important to me. Today, I want to talk to you about how I got here from there, and the librarian who made it all possible.
It’s another one of those round up posts, like in the Before Times! Also, my silly choice to do that outrageous 90s theme (I bet you are all going to miss the dancing baby) has served its purpose, and now we are back to something a bit more readable.
So the phrase “you have too much time on your hands” came across my event horizon, as a response to a silly thing I did to amuse myself. I’ve heard this for my entire life, and every few years, I write a post like this about it. This is a slightly edited version of my response.
I doubt very much you mean to be hurtful when you say this. It’s just a silly thing you say, like “tell us how you really feel”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a little joke.
About that. This is one of the most insulting, degrading, things a creative person can hear. We have all kinds of fun making something, and we put it into the world, and “you have too much time on your hands” devalues our creative experience. It’s another way of saying “don’t you have anything better to do?” Actually, dad, I don’t. This is exactly what I wanted to do with my time and energy.
I had exactly the right amount of time to make whatever the thing is. I choose to invest my time in doing something amusing, or silly, or whatever. “You have too much time” implies that this was a waste of the time I have, time that should have been spent doing something else, rather than the thing I chose to make, because it made me feel good to do that.
I am so confident that most people who say this don’t mean to be hurtful, and if you’re one of them, I hope you’ll hear me, as a creative person who has been dismissed like that his whole life, when I tell you how hurtful and insulting these words are. Don’t take my word for it, listen to all the other creative people who will reply to this, if they choose to share their experiences.
I’m not calling you out. I’m not putting you on blast, and I’ll ban anyone who brigades or attacks you. I’m just taking this moment to share this for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to be hurtful in the future. A teaching moment.
We don’t have too much time. In fact, nearly every creative person you ever talk to will tell you that we don’t have enough time. Please don’t dismiss us or the stuff we make.
Thanks for listening 🙂
NB: Facebook is bad for civilization. There is a future coming where someone researches and produces data which will show how absolutely destructive the whole damn thing is. There is a future where social media as it exists today is looked at the way my generation looks at DDT. We cannot believe it was ever a Thing, and the people who were poisoning us knew it all along. Facebook and Twitchan are a catastrophe for democracy and marginalized people. I can’t wait for the day to arrive when all of social media is regulated like tobacco and alcohol, and gets broken up into some parts that are less predatory and dangerous.
I just want to amplify my dear friend who is not here for anyone’s bullshit:
Okay. Let’s step out of that place and into something more fun!
I’ve wanted to round up some of the TV I’ve been watching:
Holy shit The Last Of Us is perfect. Flawless. Worth the entire subscription.
Netflix’s 1899 went from “interesting, compelling” to “steampunk LOST” so fast I gave up halfway through. The era of “weird for the sake of being weird, style over substance, vague hints of story instead of real character development, and we’ll sort of loosely wrap it up eventually” cannot end fast enough. Honestly, it should have died with Charlie. RIP Charlie.
Conversely, I had to force myself to not binge Wednesday, Brand New Cherry Flavor, The English, The Recruit, and Sandman. Highly recommend all of them.
The Justice Department has been scrutinizing a controversial artificial intelligence tool used by a Pittsburgh-area child protective services agency following concerns that it could result in discrimination against families with disabilities, The Associated Press has learned.
The interest from federal civil rights attorneys comes after an AP investigation revealed potential bias and transparency issues about the opaque algorithm that is designed to assess a family’s risk level when they are reported for child welfare concerns in Allegheny County.
Algorithms use pools of information to turn data points into predictions, whether that’s for online shopping, identifying crime hot spots or hiring workers. Many child welfare agencies in the U.S. are considering adopting such tools as part of their work with children and families.
Though there’s been widespread debate over the moral consequences of using artificial intelligence in child protective services, the Justice Department’s interest in the pioneering Allegheny algorithm marks a significant turn toward possible legal implications.
Supporters see algorithms as a promising way to make a strained child protective services system both more thorough and efficient, saying child welfare officials should use all tools at their disposal to make sure children aren’t maltreated. But critics worry that including data points collected largely from people who are poor can automate discrimination against families based on race, income, disabilities or other external characteristics.
(bolding is mine)
This was timely, as I just watched this short from Aperture about Algorithms a couple days ago.
tl;dr: algorithms are inherently racist, classist, and not at all neutral because the data used to train them is largely drawn from a system that has elevated the opportunities and privileges of CIS white men. It’s appalling.
Let’s stay at YouTube for a minute, because I said this was going to be fun.
It’s going to be a movie? I just saw that when I looked for a link to the publisher’s page. Hmm. I hope they do it justice. I hear they missed the mark with Tales from the Loop, but I haven’t watched it yet so take that with a grain of highly radioactive 236 U.
Also, I noticed a Still Just A Geek coffee mug in the background of one of Hank Green’s videos and I’m not gonna lie: I squeed with extreme delight.
One last YouTube mention. I can’t get enough of CGPGrey. I don’t know anything about them, except that their brain is amazing.
This video is about choosing a theme for yourself, like “my theme for this month is reading.” or “my theme for this month is mindfulness.” The idea is to help us build on little successes that fit into a broad theme, rather than setting a single goal and feeling like a failure if we don’t complete it to our liking.
My theme since I turned 50 has been self care and gratitude. I’m spending all kinds of time working on healing my cptsd and trauma, and I’m showing up for myself every day to support that. I’m making a choice to work on specific things in therapy (EMDR has changed my life), and then do the hard work in between sessions to build on the insights I’ve gotten from my therapist.
I felt this fundamental shift beneath my feet last week. This HUGE thing changed in me. It’s so big, I can’t see all of it, you know? Like, I can just see this small part of it that I let go of, and until I get farther away from it, I won’t know what all of it is. I feel so good, so unburdened, that I have spent substantial time being suspicious of it. I legit wondered if I was manic, but after talking with my therapist, I’m pretty sure what I’m feeling is the lack of generalized anxiety that has defined my life for so long I didn’t realize it was there. “This is water,” as they say.
If you only take one thing away from this post: work on your shit. It’s worth it. YOU are worth it. And I’m going to tell you something that’s going to be upsetting: all your friends know you are lying to yourself, and to them, about your mental health. We can’t do anything to support and help you until you choose to be honest and do that incredibly hard work that is so terrifying.
In the land of music, I can’t believe how much I like Miley Cyrus’ new song, Flowers. I love her smoky voice and “fuck you I’m fabulous” attitude.
I’ve been listening to Alkaline Trio, Taking Back Sunday, Get Up Kids, Ataris, and all that fabulous early 2000s stuff we all associate with Warped Tour. Yes, I made a playlist at Spotify.
Speaking of, I had no idea that Spotify used so much shitty compression, until my son pointed it out to me with a side by side comparison to Apple Music. The difference between the two is astounding. Real quick: I hate Apple. Their UI is the worst. Their design is stupid and non-intuitive. Oh, how I hate iTunes. And Apple’s refusal to use open standards in messaging can get fucked.
But Apple Music is remarkable (The Linux client, cider, is amazing). The lossless sound is so much better than the over compressed shit Spotify squirts into my ears, and I had no idea until I put them side by side. Spotify is like putting a wet paper sack over your speakers, by comparison. Once you hear the difference, it’s real hard to go back.
Too bad Spotify didn’t invest in sound quality like they did in centering and spotlighting a conspiracy theorist. This is the year I let my membership expire.
Okay, last thing: I searched high and low for a really solid RSS reader that wasn’t full of crap. I eventually settled on Fluent Reader. You can grab the Appimage here, if you’re a Linux user like me.
Oh look the morning is behind me and now I’m late for work. Which will happen in a virtual desktop two clicks over, where I’m writing a brand new thing.
I don’t know if I’ve talked about that here, so here’s what I said to them.
The work I got to do in Sandman Volume 3 for Audible was a dream (ha Dream) come true for me.
I have been a Sandman fan since day one. I got it the day it dropped (still have that issue) and never looked back. When I was in my teens, I hoped so hard that I would somehow get to be part of the Sandman universe someday, but I honestly didn’t see how it would ever be possible. I’m the wrong age, I’m American, and when I looked at the map of my potential future, I just couldn’t find a place on the road that even got me close to Neil’s world.
And then, literal decades after I made the wish, it came true. Neil emailed me and asked me if I would voice Brant in The World’s End.
You know that moment in the movies when someone wins a thing, and they have to look back at the telegram or the bingo card or whatever, many times, because they can’t believe it actually happened? It was like that.
So I said yes, did my best to play it cool and not slime Neil with my excitement, and about a month later, I was in the booth.
The World’s End is one of my favorite parts of The Sandman. I love a good retelling of The Canterbury Tales. I haven’t listened to it, yet (I’m still in Act 1 as a listener) but it was some of the most satisfying acting I’ve done in a long, long time. I just remember how completely and thoroughly I enjoyed it. The words coming out of me, the feeling of them resonating in my chest before they came out of my mouth … knowing that my body was an instrument I was playing to bring music Neil wrote to life … wow. It was so much more than I expected, and it was something I’d been dreaming about (there’s that joke again) for over 30 years.
I can’t say more without spoiling the story. What I will obliquely refer to is a moment when a lot of important characters take a walk, and Brant tells you about it. That is in my top three moments of my entire career to this point.
I had a wonderful time at Steel City Comicon this weekend. It was my first time at this particular con, so I didn’t know there was such a huge contingent of horror fans, creators, and vendors who attend.
I love horror, and I was pretty psyched to be in the same place as John Carpenter and Tom Savini, across the street from the Dawn of the Dead mall. Pittsburgh feels like one of the places horror was invented, at least to me.
A number of these horror fans came to see me, and asked me to sign posters and other things from a movie my parents forced me to do when I was 13, called The Curse. I had to tell each of these people that I would not sign anything associated with that movie, because I was abused and exploited during production. The time I spent on that film remains the most traumatizing time of my life, and though I am a 50 year-old man, just typing this now makes my hands shake with remembered fear of a 13 year-old boy who nobody protected, and the absolute fury the 50 year-old man feels toward the people who hurt him.
I told this story in Still Just A Geek, and I’ve talked about it in some podcasts I did on the promo tour, but I’ve never put it out in public like this, in its entirety.
I suspect someone at the publisher would prefer I tease this and hope it drives book sales from people who want to read all of it, but I honestly don’t want to have another weekend like this one where everything is awesome, except the few times people who have no idea (and why should they) put that fucking poster in front of me, and all the fear, abandonment, and trauma come flooding back as I tell them that I won’t sign it, and why.
To their credit, each person was as horrified as they should have been, told me they had no idea (if they didn’t read my book why would they), and quickly put the poster away. They were all understanding. I am grateful for that.
But I really don’t need to tell this story over and over again, so here it is, with a child abuse and exploitation content warning, so I can just tell people to Google it.
I’m generally not meant to talk about what I’m working on without explicit permission, so earlier today, I posted this on Instagram:
You know, like I always do when I’m working on something. It’s fun, and I enjoy having this easily searched archive when I want to pull a memory out of storage.
A little bit later, I added
Be cool and don’t narc on me. Snitches get stitches.
Then I went back to work and didn’t notice until I got home a bit ago that stupid fucking Instagram was like “Hey, how about I crop your image to ruin your joke? I’ll cut your name off the bottom so none of this makes sense lol. Now watch all these reels from people you don’t follow. You’ll see your friends’ posts in … the future.”
So here is the uncropped image which I TOLD Instagram to upload.
Have I over explained the joke enough? Find the nearest dad to pick up the baton from me if not.
I’m always told not to talk about what I’m working on, so the publisher can make announcements and do PR at their pace, on their schedule. I always wait and then just amplify their messages. I know lots of professionals do lots of hard work, and I don’t want to step on it or make it harder for them, just to amuse or promote myself.
So, here’s the timeline on this job:
The day the book was announced way back in … I think winter, early in the year? I started getting asks from people if I’d narrate it, since I’d already narrated the first one, it was kind of in my wheelhouse, etc.
At that time, I hoped I would be asked, because I freaking LOVE Randall Monroe’s work, it was a blast doing the first one, and How To, and I loved the idea of getting the team back together (same director and studio) to do it again.
But like months went by and nobody called us, so I presumed they’d decided to use a different narrator. Oh well. Sad trombone but life goes on, long after JCM’s record has stopped playing in the last little pink house that hasn’t been destroyed by climate change.
Then! Then I got an email from my agent about 6 weeks ago, asking if I would narrate What If? 2. I replied something like, “Yes. I don’t even need to read it first. Just close the deal before they change their mind!” And that was that.
I still couldn’t talk about it (or at least chose not to, as expressed above), and when someone asked me if I was doing it, I always said that would be super cool, but I couldn’t say one way or the other.Then like two weeks ago, maybe three, I searched my name on Audible to find a link to one of my NUMEROUS AWARD WINNING NARRATIONS flex and saw that this one was on the list! HO HO! I don’t have to wait! They’ve already put it online!
Which brings us up to about 5 hours ago, when I posted what I imagined was clever, but was missing what I believe was/is vital context.