Category Archives: From The Vault

from the vault: the autumn moon lights my way

In 2005, I blew up my blog and couldn’t fix it. So I started a backup blog at Typepad, where I wrote and published until 2012.

As I’ve been promoting Still Just A Geek, I am more and more aware of this enormous gap in my story that is a significant part of my journey from 2004 me to 2022 me. I’m not sure how or why it got left out; it just sort of … slipped my mind. Brains and memories are weird that way. But I’m discovering that nearly that entire time is well documented (for better and worse) at WWdN:iX.

So I’ve been slowly revisiting that part of my life, as I consider putting together some sort of novella-length … supplement? I don’t know. Something will replace the graphic that says “SOME TIME LATER” between the end of Just A Geek and the beginning of The Big Bang Theory.

I wrote A LOT about my sons, and our relationship, during this five year mission. It’s rewarding and special to look back at those posts, now, knowing everything I know.

So here’s one from September 28, 2005:

the autumn moon lights my way

I heard Led Zeppelin coming out of Ryan’s room, so I put down my Sudoku book (yeah, I’ve been hooked for about a month), walked down the hall, and knocked on his door.

“Come in,” he said.

I opened, and entered his sanctuary: astronomy posters hung from his walls, and a stack of books (Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, Macbeth, Divine Comedy and a host of other books that your average AP English student with a 4.0 in the class reads*) sat on his desk. A pile of (clean? dirty?) clothes lay in a heap at the foot of his bed. He sat at his desk, looking at The Internets.

He turned around in his chair. “What’s up?” He said.

“Oh, I just heard you listening to Zeppelin II, and I didn’t want to miss a chance to share in something we both love, that I happened to introduce to you in the pre-Pod days.”

“I . . . just wondered what you were doing.” I said.

He got very excited. “Oh! I found this awesome Family Guy Website, and I was downloading audioclips from it, and putting them on my computer.” He clicked a few times, and showed me the website.

“When I was your age, I did the same thing, with The Prisoner and Star Trek,” I said,  “on my Mac II.”

He frowned. “Weren’t you on Star Trek?”

“Yeah,” I said, “but the sounds were from the original series.”

He looked back at me.

“So it was geeky, but it wasn’t totally lame,” I said. Why did I feel like I our ages and roles were reversed?

“What’s The Prisoner?” He said.

“A show that I love, that I don’t think you’re geeky enough to enjoy.”

He clicked his mouse, and iTunes fell silent.

“Wil,” he said, “you didn’t think I’d like Firefly.”

“Touche,” I said with a smile. “Any time you want to watch The Prisoner, I am so there.”

“Actually, any time you want to do anything, I am so there, because I don’t want to be a stranger to you for the next five years, and I’ll close the gap any way I can.”

“Okay,” he said. “Maybe after school some day next week.”

“When –“

“When my homework’s done,” he said. “I know, Wil.”

He wasn’t snotty. He wasn’t rude. He wasn’t impatient or unpleasant. He just . . . was. I saw a lot of myself in him.

“I need to work my a–” he began, “I need to work very hard this semester.”

I nodded my head. “I’m glad you know that, Ryan.”

He turned back around to his computer. I stood in his doorway and looked at him for a minute.

“He may not have my DNA, but I’ve given him some of the things that matter in life,” I thought.


He didn’t turn around. “Hmm?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Wil.”

“Ramble On, And now’s the time, the time is now, to sing my song.
I’m goin’ ’round the world, I got to find my girl, on my way.
I’ve been this way ten years to the day, Ramble On,
Gotta find the queen of all my dreams.”

*Yes, I’m proud as hell. Sue me.

From the Vault: cant see useless

I wrote this in 2002, when I was just thirty-one. It feels like three lifetimes ago. So weird.

I’m proud of younger me, who wrote it. He’s struggling so much, he’s so afraid, and he won’t get help for his mental illness for a while, yet, so every day is just so hard. He just wants to raise his stepkids, love them the way he wasn’t loved, and have some kind of life with his wife, but a vindictive piece of shit just won’t stop trying to destroy all of their lives. He is trying so hard, and he feels like a failure, every minute of every day.

My heart hurts for the guy who wrote this, because I can remember exactly how he felt, but I’m also super proud of his refusal to give up, give in, or surrender. He fights for his wife, he fights for his family. He hasn’t learned how to fight for himself, but that will come, later.

He’s learning how to be a writer.

It’s an oppressively hot October afternoon. I have the worst writer’s block of my life. I can write a few words together, I can create one or two images, but I can’t connect them. I want to tell the story of the young girl who sees the carnival come to her small town, the girl who is just 18, and aware of her power over men, the girl who tries to use this power on a young ride operator so she can escape her small town. The girl who has her power turned back on her and ends the story crying in an empty field surrounded by torn tickets and cigarette butts.
I want to tell the story of the powerless man who watches his wife cry herself to sleep at night. The man who can’t provide for his family, the man who can’t protect them from the Bogeyman. The man who wanders his empty house at night, looking for the joy he knows once lived there. The man who waits for exhaustion to claim him in the deep of night, and give him a brief reprieve from his sadness.
The stories sit cross a river of doubt and frustration, and the ferryman demands a payment I don’t have. I decide to walk down the shore, in search of a bridge.
I find myself in Old Town Pasadena, in front of Hooters, where this whole journey began. Maybe my muse is inside.
I walk in and find the place filled with middle-aged businessmen who drink beer and leer at the young waitresses over fish sandwiches. A young girl with hair so bleached it looks like straw says, “Welcome to Hooters!”
“Can I get food at the bar?” I ask.
“Of course!”
“Thanks,” I say, and take a seat.
The waitress working the bar appears to be about the same age as me, in stark contrast to the other girls who look like they’re all in their early 20s.
There are heavy bags beneath her tired and sad eyes.
“What can I get you?” she asks.
“A Guinness and a cheeseburger,” I say.
She turns, and pours me a pint. It’s still settling when she puts it in front of me.
“Not many people drink Guinness in the middle of the day,” she says.
“Is that a fact?” I say. In my mind I’m Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, and I’m in a 1920s Hollywood speakeasy.
“It is,” she says, “I think this is the only pint I’ve poured all day.
“Well, I don’t like to drink beer I can see through,” I say, as I lift the now-settled glass to my lips.
Her laugh doesn’t make it to her eyes, but it’s still friendly. I find a kindred spirit in her sadness. We’re both in a place we didn’t expect to be. I bet I’m the first guy she’s waited on all day who hasn’t stared at her skimpy outfit while talking to her.
“Hey, honey, can we get another pitcher of Bud over here?” calls a guy in a George Zimmer signature suit at the corner of the bar. His tie is loose and he bounces his leg on the rail. It shakes under my foot. I don’t like that at all.
I look around the restaurant. I’ve never seen it this full during the day. John Fogerty tells me that there’s a bad moon on the rise.
“Sure,” she says, and walks down to the taps.
Two young girls turn heads as they walk in and sit at a table behind me. “Oh my god! Your eyebrows look so great!” the tall one says.
“Don’t they? I totally had them tattoo’d on,” she says.
I tune them out and count the rings down my glass: one . . . two . . . three.
I look down the bar and see Men’s Wearhouse and his business partners putting their best midlife crisis moves on the waitress — my waitress. Brown Suit stares at her chest while Blue Suit flashes a capped smile at her. She giggles and fusses with her hair, and fills their glasses.
“Hurry back!” Brown Suit says, as she walks back up the bar.
Five. I stare at the top of my beer. It looks like clouds over a black sky.
“So what do you do?” she asks.
” . . . I guess I’m a writer.”
“You guess you are, or you are?”
“I am. I’m blocked today.”
“By what?”
“The Bogeyman.”
“What’s that?”
“A convenient literary metaphor.”
“You are a writer.”
I laugh. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“Have you written anything I’ve read?” she asks. A loaded question.
“Probably not,” I say, “I wrote one, and the people who read it seem to like it, and I’m working on another one.”
“But you’re blocked today,” she says.
“Yeah. This place is sort of involved in my career choice, so I thought I’d come here and try to break the block.”
“How’s that working out for you?” she asks. A flicker of mirth passes her eyes.
“Well, at the very least, I’ll get a Guinness out of the deal.”
I want to hug that version of me, and tell him that, because of everything he’s enduring, because of everything he is doing to fight for us, I have a great life. He’s hurting so much, and he’s so afraid. He feels like giving up, all the time, and he often wonders if it’s all worth it.
It is.

From the (Ficlets) Vault: A Godawful Small Affair

Does anyone remember Ficlets? It was a really fun collaborative writing site that allowed us to write stories no longer than 1024 characters, and anyone could write prequels or sequels to it.

I loved Ficlets, and it played a significant part in my growth and development as a writer, because the limitations it imposed on us, as well as the short format, made it fairly risk-free for someone like me who was just figuring out what his writing voice sounded like (and how to use it).

Some of the Ficlets I wrote are pretty good, and others aren’t, but they’re all things I made where something wasn’t before. This one, which was inspired by listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars on repeat a lot, is one of the better ones I did:

A Godawful Small Affair

by Wil Wheaton
originally published at 01:55PM on Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“I want to move to Mars, and open up a bar,” Gregor said.

Matti inhaled deeply, and let a cloud of pale blue smoke surround his head.

“What would you call it?” Matti said.

“Moonage Daydream.” Gregor said.

They sat together on a crumbling balcony, exposed rebar and radioactive dust, and waited for the rocket, three miles distant, to launch.

“What’s it mean?” Matti said. He flicked the butt of his cigarette over the edge, and watched it fall out of sight.

“It’s the title of an old song,” Gregor looked past the rocket, to a horizon he knew he’d never cross, “from about a hundred years ago.”

“Nobody’s going to get it. Why would you pick something that old?”

“Because back then,” Gregor said, “people had hope.”

The ground shook, and they watched the rocket climb into the sky.

If you follow that link, above, you can find some stories other folks wrote when they were inspired by this one as a starting point. Hell, if you want, you can write a prequel or sequel and post it in a comment here, just keep it to 1024 characters or less, because that’s the rule.

From the Vault: the seat with the clearest view

Anne and I took a long walk today, and while we were on our way back, I remembered writing this post for my blog, a million years ago. The game I’m talking about, Kangaroo, was the subject of a column I was writing for The AV Club at the time, called The Games of Our Lives:

Even though Kangaroo is sort of a forgettable game, it will always be special to me because, like Wizard of Wor, it reminds me of a specific time and place in my life: the set of my first feature film, The Buddy System. We shot that movie at 20th Century Fox during the summer of 1983, and the art department had both Kangaroo and Turbo set on free play, and because the sound was turned off, I got to play them whenever I wanted to. That movie was a lot of difficult work. Richard Dreyfuss hadn’t gotten sober yet, and many days he just didn’t show up for work, so I spent a lot of time playing gin rummy with my aunt, racing cars, and beating up the evil pink monkeys. The director didn’t know how to talk to kids, so he just gave me lots of line readings (which annoyed me, even as I neared my eleventh birthday) . . . but when I look back on that summer, what I really remember is the time I spent with Susan Sarandon, who played my mother in the film, and how much fun we had together. She took me under her wing, and treated me like I was her son, colleague, and friend. When the director was a dick, she made it okay. When Richard was looney on the cocaine, she made it okay. But more than anything else, she never talked down to me. She made me feel like I was part of the cast, and I deserved to be there, even though I was just a kid. The only other person to treat me that way when I was a child working in movies was Rob Reiner.

I remember one afternoon, while we were on a break between scenes, I walked through an empty set, and saw Susan listening to her Walkman (like an iPod, but it uses these things called “cassette tapes,” that you may have seen on “I Love The 80s.”) She pulled off her headphones, and said, “Do you want to hear some cool music?”

“Sure,” I said, and walked into the room, which was her character’s bedroom in the movie. They’d built an entire house on the stage, and even though I’d been on lots of sets before, it was still magical to me. There were lights and catwalks and cables and all the elements of movie magic just outside the camera’s view. Some lights, flags, and C-stands crowded the corners of the set, and our chairs were pushed up against one wall. The room was dimly lit by the reflected light from the shooting set, a few rooms down the hall.

I sat down next to her and heard music coming out of her headphones.

“How are you doing today?” She said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I saw Superman III last night.”

“Oh? How was it?” She said. She paused her Walkman, and the tinny sound of a guitar was replaced by the voices of the crew setting up the next shot.

“It was really stupid,” I said. “They tried too hard to be funny, so it wasn’t cool like the first two.”

“Do you know who Richard Pryor is?” She said.

I shook my head.

“He played Gus.”

“The guy who made the machine?” I said. “Oh god! I hated him.”

“He’s a famous comedian.” She said.

“Well, he’s not very funny,” I said. Compared to the antics of Jack Tripper, or Arnold Jackson’s Watchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis? which was the height of comedy as far as I was concerned, Richard Pryor just didn’t rate.

“When you get older, you should listen to his comedy albums,” she said. “I think you’ll change your mind.”

She was right. When I was fifteen or sixteen, my friend Pat and I picked up Richard Pryor Live in Concert, and I laughed so hard I almost forgave him for Brewster’s Millions. He went on to be a comedic influence in my life, joining Bill Murray, Bill Hicks, Bill Cosby, and a few comedians who are not named Bill, including Chevy Chase and Steve Martin.

“If I do, I’ll call you,” I said. Unfortunately, by the time I did, we’d lost touch. That has always made me feel a little sad.

“We’re ready for first team!” The first assistant director called out.

She picked up her headphones and put them over my ears. “Quick! Before they find us!” She said. I giggled as she pushed play.

A man started to sing. His voice was deep and beautiful. The music was soft, and felt sort of sad. If I’d known what “haunting” was, that’s how I would have described it.

After a minute, she said, “Do you like it?”

I did. It was unlike any of the music my parents listened to, and was very different from the pop music I heard on the radio.

“Who is it?” I said.

“It’s my friend,” she said. “This song is about an astronaut who blasts off and never comes back.”

“It’s really cool,” I said, as an assistant director poked his head into the room.

“I have first team,” he said in to his walkie talkie. “We’re ready for you on set,” he said to us.

We got up and went to work before I could find out the title of the song. As the day went on, and the work took over, I never thought to ask, and by the end of the day, I’d forgotten about it entirely.

Later that year, I helped my dad repair a gate on the side of our house. We listened to KMET (the greatest rock-n-roll radio station in history, which was tragically replaced in 1987 by the worst light-jazz pile of shit in history) while we worked, and that song from Susan’s friend came out of the radio.

“Dad!” I said, “This is the song that Susan played for me when we filmed The Buddy System! This is her friend!”

My dad stopped hammering, and listened.

“Do you know who it is?” I said.

“Yeah,” my dad said. “This is David Bowie.” The song was Space Oddity.

To this day, whenever I hear it, I can see my eleven year-old self, sitting in that empty, dusty, dimly-lit set on stage 18 at Fox. I can feel the rough pads of Susan’s headphones on my ears, and remember how happy I felt to be part of a secret club.

From the Vault: In Which I Fail A Vital Saving Throw

In a few hours, I’m hosting a conversation with Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd, author of the awesome book What If? (I hear the audio version is pretty great), and a really great guy who I am privileged to call my friend.

Of course, the first time I met Randy, it didn’t go very well for me, which is the subject of this post From The Vault, In Which I Fail A Vital Saving Throw – originally published in August, 2008.

It was the end of the day, and my blood sugar was dangerously low. Colors and sounds were louder than they should have been. My feet and legs had been replaced by two dull, throbbing stumps that barely supported the weight of my body.

Most of the day, I’d been signing autographs for and talking with countless excited fans. Some of them shook my hand too hard and too long with a sweaty grip that trembled a little too much. Some of them stared at me uncomfortably. Some of them rambled incoherently. All of them were genuinely friendly, though.

I took it all in stride, because I’ve done this convention thing for — my god — two decades, and even though I don’t think I’m anything worth getting excited about, I know that it happens sometimes, and I know how people occasionally react. I never laugh at them or make them feel lame. I never make jokes at their expense. I am understanding and grateful that they want to talk to me at all. I wouldn’t want to talk to me if I was trapped with me in an elevator, and I certainly wouldn’t be excited about the prospect if faced with the option. I am always grateful, and take nothing for granted.

A voice boomed over my head, blasting right through my eardrums and exploding inside my skull. The convention floor was closing, it announced, and it was time for all of us to get the fuck out.

Red-jacketed security guards emerged from shadows I hadn’t noticed during the day. A handful at first, then a dozen, like zombies pouring through a breach in a barricade. They shambled forward relentlessly, single-mindedly driving a mass of exhibitors and straggling fans toward the doors.

I picked up my backpack, inexplicably heavier than it was before I emptied pounds of books from it earlier in the day, and heaved it onto my shoulders. My back screamed.

“You have to vacate the hall,” a girl said to me. She couldn’t have been older than eighteen, but clearly wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone, especially someone in my weakened state.

“I’m on my way,” I said. I turned to say goodbye to my boothmates, and saw the unmistakable visage of Jeph Jacques walk past behind them.

I’ve done this convention thing for a long time, so I knew that it was unlikely that I’d have a chance to say more than three words to Jeph before the convention was over. If I didn’t seize the moment, I probably wouldn’t get another chance. I smiled at the girl, faked to my right, and spun to my left around her. I nearly fell over from the effort.

“Hey . . .” she began. I took two quick steps away from her with my last bits of strength.

“Jeph!” I called out. He kept walking. He’s done this convention thing before, and, like me, knows that when someone calls out your name at the end of the day it’s best to pretend you didn’t hear them so you can just get the hell out of the hall and to a place where you can recover your hit points. This place is usually called a bar.

“Jeph! It’s Wil Wheaton!” I called out. I don’t know Jeph well enough to call him a friend, but we’ve talked at shows before, and I’ve always enjoyed our limited interactions. Maybe if he knew it was me, and not some random person, he’d stop so I could say hello. Maybe he wouldn’t want to talk to me if we were trapped in an elevator, but I knew the security guards were closing in, and if I could get into his Circle of Protection: Exhibitor, maybe I could stay there for a couple of minutes.

He stopped and turned around. He smiled wearily, and said hello. We shook hands, and I noticed that he’d been walking with someone.

“Hey, have you ever met Randall?” He said.

His companion turned to me and extended his hand. My brain screamed at me, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD THAT’S RANDALL MUNROE! BE COOL!”

Before I knew what was happening, my hand shot out from my body and grabbed his. I incoherently babbled something about how much I love his work. He tried to say something, but I just. kept. talking.


My mouth, however, was out of my control. I continued to ramble, vomiting a turgid cascade of genuinely-excited praise and gratitude all over him.

A full minute later, I realized, to my abject horror, that my hand was still shaking his. I held it too hard in a sweaty, trembling hand. Darkness flashed at the edges of my vision, and I felt weak. I pulled my hand back, a little too quickly, mumbled an apology, and shut my mouth.

They said things to me, but I couldn’t hear them over my own brain screaming at me, “GET OUT OF THERE YOU COCKASS. YOU HAD ONE CHANCE TO MEET RANDALL MUNROE AND YOU BLEW IT! I HATE YOU! YOU GO TO HELL NOW! YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE!”

A hand fell on my shoulder. I turned toward it, and saw the security girl.

“Sir, you need to leave the hall.” She said. “Now.” She had backup: a pair of similarly-aged teens, two boys working on their first mustaches. They fixed me with a steely-eyed gazes.

I have never been so relieved to be kicked out of anyplace in the world as I was then.

“I guess I better go,” I said. I took a short breath, and lamely added, “it’s really nice to meet you. I really do love your work.”

My brain did the slow clap.

His reply did not penetrate the wall of shame I’d constructed around myself, though I clearly recall that he didn’t make fun of me, or make me feel stupid, or let on that I was a sweaty, shaking, raving lunatic. He didn’t appear to be grateful that we weren’t trapped in an elevator, though I suspect he must have been. As I fled the hall, I was grateful for his kindness, patience, and understanding.

Once outside, I went to a place where I could forget my appalling embarrassment.

That place was called a bar.