Category Archives: From The Vault

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.”

“in defence of nerds”

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

Holy. Shit.

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.

From the Vault: Matt LeBlanc, Vampires, and Me

I saw on Twitter that an episode I did of the old series Monsters was on Chiller channel today (You can also see it on the YouTubes: Part One; Part Two). Here’s a story I wrote about it my column in the LA Weekly in 2008:

Super Fun Happy Slide: Reflections on an Acting Career

I spent the first two thirds of my life working as a full-time actor, but about five years ago, my primary focus shifted from acting to writing. A funny thing happened on my way to being a full-time writer, though: I started working a lot as an actor, both on camera (CSICriminal Minds) and with my voice (Teen TitansLegion of Superheroes). This has lead to a pretty standard question when I do interviews: “What do you like more, acting or writing?”

“It’s a lot like asking a parent which child they love more,” goes my standard response, “the truth for me is that I love both of my children for different reasons, and I don’t think it’s possible for me to love one more than the other. However, it is impossible for me to imagine my life without them in it.”

My acting career has spanned just a few months shy of thirty years. During it, I’ve worked with awesome people, complete douchebags, famous people who were intimidating, famous people who were gracious, famous people who were on their way down, and soon-to-be famous people who were on their way up. This week, I thought it would be fun to combine my actor side with my writer side, and tell a story about one of those people.

In 1990, I did an episode of the syndicated television series Monsters. The show was a lot of fun to work on, and though it’s not one of the the more memorable entries on my resume, the experience I had while shooting it was. The episode was called “A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites” and I played a teenager who is convinced that the neighborhood barbers are vampires. Nobody believes him, so he convinces his friend to join him in some casual late night breaking and entering to get a closer look inside the barbershop, where he hopes to find irrefutable evidence that will ensure he gets the girl, who is never seen or implied, but was an important part of my motivation.

Shortly after they get inside, the barbers show up, reveal in the usual manner that the damn kids were right all along, and strap our heroes into barber chairs, where vampirelarity ensues … with one of the trademark Monsters twists: instead of drinking their victims’ blood, they collect and feed it to a horrible monster who lives in the basement. The show ends with the the two kids, now adults, working in the same barbershop and serving the same hideous master, in the same manner.

As far as the standard “boy meets vampire, boy’s blood is fed by vampire to hideous monster, boy becomes adult minion of hideous monster” story goes, it was pretty good. It also managed to sneak in a subversive message about the importance of breaking the cycle of vampirism, which qualified the episode as “educational” in some Eastern Bloc countries.

Here’s where the story gets weird. The other kid was played by a young actor who was pretty new to Hollywood. Though he would eventually become one of the highest paid actors in prime time, he hadn’t done very much before we worked together, and I was the well-known veteran on the set. His name was Matt LeBlanc; you may have heard of him.

Neither one of is knew that our career trajectories were on decidedly different paths when they intersected, but we liked each other right away, and rather than retreat to our individual dressing rooms when we weren’t filming, we hung out like old friends, and in the course of getting to know each other, we discovered that we both liked Monty Python, MST3K, and Zucker Brothers movies.

One Friday morning, he asked me, “Did you see The Simpsons last night?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t watch The Simpsons.”

He looked surprised. “Dude, it’s exactly the kind of show you’d like.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve watched it a couple of times, and I thought it was funny when it was part of the Tracy Ullman show, but I just don’t think it works for a full half hour.” I was 18 at the time, and due to my vast experience in life, the universe and everything, I was certain that The Simpsons wouldn’t last more than two seasons. (Someday, I’ll tell you how I also predicted that nobody would remember Nirvana after Smells Like Teen Spirit, or thatArrested Development would be on the air forever. Ahem.)

Matt turned to face me, put down his script, and for the next twenty minutes, reenacted the entirety of the previous night’s episode, a rerun from the first season titled “The Crepes of Wrath.”

“They send Bart to France, where he gets stuck working at a vineyard. They make him sleep with a donkey, they put antifreeze in the wine … it’s really terrible. But there’s this part where he picks a grape,” he stood up, and held an imaginary grape between his fingers. “And then he looks around …”

Matt looked to his right, then to his left, the grin that he’d trademark four years later beginning to stretch across his face. “They cut away from him, and show that there’s nobody around,” he held his hands in front of his face, pantomiming a camera panning from side to side. “But when he tries to put it in his mouth, a hand shows up from nowhere and smacks him in the back of the head!” He started to giggle, “and then the French guy goes, don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!”

His fake French accent was hilarious, and we both giggled like idiots for several minutes. For the rest of the episode, whenever we were supposed to be serious or focused, Matt would catch my eye and quietly say “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and I would crack up. I never ratted him out, even though the director grew tired of my seeming inability to keep it together when I was supposed to be skulking around the barbershop, or watching my precious bodily fluids flow down tubes into the gaping maw of some nameless horror.

On the final day of production, we traded phone numbers and planned to stay in touch, but when we didn’t have working on Monsters in common, we returned to our regular lives and never got together to hang out and watch The Simpsons together.

A few years passed, and one night my friend and I watched an episode of this new show,Friends. I wanted to watch our Ren & Stimpy compilation on VHS, but there was a girl involved and … well, you know how those things go.

I recognized Matt as soon as I saw him. “Hey,” I said, “See the guy who plays Joey? That’s the guy who convinced me to watch The Simpsons! We worked together on Monsters. Cool!”

I was genuinely excited for him. We’d only worked together for a week, but I liked him a lot. He was such a kind person, so guileless and so excited to be working as an actor, it was like one of the good guys – somebody who actually deserved success – had made it.

Life is rarely comfortable for anyone who hopes to be a full-time actor. It’s intensely competitive, unreliable, and totally unpredictable. While some will get to grab the brass ring and never let go, most of us spend our entire careers watching fate dance right up to us, seductively unzip its top just enough to get us excited, and then laugh as it dances away with a different partner. It’s like Lucy with the football, and it sucks. But there are moments on the set, when a guy you just met puts on a hilarious fake French accent and says, “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and you collapse into giggles that you can viscerally recall fifteen years later. Those moments are priceless, and even though they don’t put food on the table or open up any casting office doors, they’re a big part of why I keep coming back to the dance.

From The Vault: the nights are darker and longer than they were a week ago

My soundtrack to yesterday was a collection of essential 1990s ambient music from Woob, FAX Label, and Global Communication, and Deep Space Network.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and was delighted to discover that there is a new (to me) Woob album, which should be embedded here:

And this is as good a time as any to cut and paste part of an old post I wrote about ambient music in 2008:

I’m always happy to share this type of music with people, and if I have an opportunity to turn people on to music that really opened my mind (without the assistance from any chemical or mind-altering substances, I always feel compelled to add) I always seize it.


I’ll point those of you who are interested to a portion of a post I made in 2005 (my god, how is it that it simultaneously feels so long ago and so recent to me?) about ambient music. The “it” I refer to is an ambient song I made in GarageBand called Lakeside Shadow:


If you like it, you’ll probably like some of the artists who influenced me over the years: Woob (especially 1194, and especially the track strange air) Dedicated (especially Global Communication, also called 76 14), and Solitaire (especially Ritual Ground). Also, Instinct Records (still alive) andSilent Records (sadly, tragically, defunct since 1996) released an amazing number of genre-defining ambient discs in the 90s. And now, just to prove how hardcore I am, I’m going to throw out Pete Namlook, and the FAX Label, but their stuff is far more experimental than the rest of my list, and isn’t what I’d use to introduce a new listener to Ambient music.


Finally, if you can find it, Silent Records put out an incredible record called Earth to Infinity (I think in 1994) which was pulled shortly after it was released, due to some sampling issues. I think it’s one of the greatest ambient recordings of all time, and don’t ask me for it because I’m not going to jail for you, Chachi.


I think I could have said “incredible” a few more times. Allow me to emphatically pulverize this dead horse deep into the ground: if you only get two ambient records in your whole life, they should be 1194 from Woob and Earth to Infinity (holy shit there are two available from Amazon). If you can only get three, add 76:14, and thank me before you touch the monolith and journey beyond the infinite.


Okay, as I said in 2005, most of my ambient CDs are from Silent, Instinct, and Caroline, and I have a metric assload of FAX recordings that I don’t listen to very much any more. If I were to expand on the artists and albums I mentioned three years ago into a list of essentials, I would add Pelican Daughters‘ breathtaking record BlissConsciousness III (orLunar Phase) by Heavenly Music Corporation, and the 2295 compilation from em:t.


If you’re intrigued, and want to know what some of this stuff sounds like without waiting, please go directly to Magnatune, and fire up their ambient mix. They’ve got artists over there, like Robert Rich and Falling You, who make truly incredible music. (I really think I need to say incredible and really more. Really.) Soma FM has magnificent downtempo and ambient streams, as well. Groove Salad and Dronezone rarely disappoint.


The thing to understand about ambient, though, if you’ve never heard it before, is that it’s slow and deliberate. It takes its time. It doesn’t work in the car, and it doesn’t work if your brain is cranked up to eleven. It’s best enjoyed when you can relax, and let it fill the room around you as you slowly sink into it and out of yourself, like you’ve stepped into a giant gelatinous cube.


Hrm. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. Go ahead and fill in your own: “______________.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.

So there you go. As the weather changes, the leaves begin to fall, maybe something here will help you through the nights that are darker and longer than they were a week ago.