With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we often find ourselves becoming more introspective, reflecting on the people and things for which we are thankful. As we at Fanbase Press celebrate fandoms, this year, the Fanbase Press staff and contributors have chosen to honor their favorite fandoms, characters, or other elements of geekdom for which they are thankful, and how those areas of geekiness have shaped their lives and values.
I am thankful for Wil Wheaton. As a long-time Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) fan, you would think my admiration comes solely from his time as Wesley Crusher. Admittedly, I think I was quite jealous of the character, as he stood in the same room as my idol, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, portrayed by Patrick Stewart.
Before I get to the gratefulness I feel for Wil Wheaton, I want to track down my feelings on his role as Wesley Crusher. My jealousy didn’t make me hate Wesley or the actor playing the part. It made me wish, more than anything, that I was in his shoes to take those steps, travel along his adventures, and hope that my own world would one day be a place like the Federation – a place of peaceful coexistence with many different life forms.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve always struggled with getting out of my own head. I’m hyper-critical on everything I do, and as a parent, I’m often afraid my tendencies will transfer to my kids. I admire Wil Wheaton’s ability to speak his mind. His candidness is sincere and wonderfully unabashed in a way that makes me wish I had such confidence to speak from the heart. As a writer, my confidence to fill a page is quite different from opening up to someone face to face. I’m quite aware of my social awkwardness and sometimes solemn approach that generates an exterior that’s possibly perceived as downtrodden. And, quite honestly, sometimes, I feel like my ability to take daily stresses of life are not always copacetic. It’s as if I’ve given an order to “raise shields,” and the only response that comes thereafter is the realization that aceton assimilators have been in my proximity too long – draining my shields and leaving me extremely vulnerable to deadly radiation. Just an FYI, that’s a “Booby Trap” reference from Season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
So, as I was saying, I’m somewhat socially awkward. (*sounds of crickets*) I love TNG and that has always been my comfort zone for re-watching a TV show for pleasure, or simply for comforting background noise as I type away on my computer. When I started watching TableTop from Geek & Sundry, which he hosted and also co-created with Felicia Day, I realized how much I missed playing board games. I loved them as a kid, and friends in college would sometimes play too, but it was never a regular thing. Watching TableTop was a regular thing for me. I have watched every episode and have re-watched some many times. There’s something about Wil Wheaton’s genuineness that seeps through when watching or listening to him speak. I love seeing his enthusiasm for playing games with his friends, but also, wanting to present something to his audience so they can understand all of the mechanics involved in playing.
Many of the games I own are based off TableTop, which include Dixit, Munchkin, Elder Sign, Tiny Epic Galaxies, and two games my wife loves, too – Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. My wife and I don’t play all of the time, but we’ve gotten into a pretty decent routine where we’ll open one of those two games and it’s a great way for us to unwind after a long day or stressful week. I think one of the reasons I re-watch TableTop often is because I feel a similar sense of camaraderie and belonging just by watching Wil enjoy the company of his friends – because it truly makes him happy to see his friends get into games as much as he enjoys them. Isn’t that what we hope for our kids to find in friends when they grow up? I hope for that. I hope my kids will find comfort in something, like games, where the activity is more about the time spent together than worrying about the place finished. I get wanting to win, but I’ll gladly play board games with my kids and lose every time – it’s just so much fun to spend that time with them.
As I think about fun, I can’t help but reminisce about my 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con (BCC) experience. The absolute highlight of my entire weekend was attending Wil Wheaton’s panel. I knew that I was going to be in the same room as Wil, and it was quite an overwhelming feeling (in a good way). I was so happy, and knowing I would get to listen to him speak about anything was a true treat. There are certain people that resonate positivity for me, whether they feel that way or not, and I was in need of that positive energy – I was ready to see Wil Wheaton.
It’s safe to say that I greatly appreciate his honest approach when discussing anything. His responses not only make sense, they are heartfelt and that type of sincerity is truly important for people of all ages – much like his 2013 response to a question asking about his experiences with being called a nerd at a young age. “When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you.” Wil has an amazing ability to take a serious topic of bullying and explain to a kid that sometimes people do things because they’re sad. With Wil Wheaton’s capacity to speak the truth and also talk about his own dealings with depression and anxiety, I was looking forward to seeing this firsthand with one of my role models. I was looking forward to seeing how he was doing. When I attended BCC, I hoped he was well. I hoped he was having a good day. I hoped he was happy. Because when it comes down to it, Wil Wheaton made me extremely happy just by being there. I wasn’t able to get too close where I could wave and say hi – I was the 6’5″ guy in the black and yellow Fanbase Press shirt by the way (in case you’re reading this, Wil) – but that was okay. I was going to be able to listen to someone I admire.
At this point in my life, I had recently quit my job the day before BCC and I looked at BCC as a fresh start. Seeing Wil Wheaton enter the room and walk onto the stage was a dream come true moment. When people go to listen to motivational speakers, I imagine they leave with quite an upbeat feeling. Wil Wheaton came and spoke from the heart. He opened with a brief remark on the state of the country, showed off his new shoes, and went on to talk about his career. Wil Wheaton’s self-deprecating humor lets everyone settle in comfortably. We also learn that he doesn’t have a Funko POP! for any of his characters – How is this possible!? As I can continue my thoughts on this entire panel, I realize how cathartic this experience was for me, and one of the reasons I’m writing this thankful letter of appreciation to him.
Starting a new path in life is scary. Deciding to become a full-time writer was and is the right decision, despite that fear. Ultimately, helping to make this decision with the support of my wife, my mental and emotional well-being leading up to this decision was not stellar. I have a fantastic, loving wife and two incredibly beautiful kids who are twenty times more outgoing than I could have ever imagined. Even knowing this, dark clouds of anguish would rush over me. The reasons leading to this feeling aren’t something I feel comfortable sharing publicly, but nevertheless, they were there and knowing I would listen to Wil Wheaton, someone who could help heal my soul just by being there – just by speaking. Regardless of whether Wil understands his place in the Hollywood circle, because I clearly don’t because he’s phenomenal, he is able to verbalize his feelings in a way that makes me feel like he’s talking about me. I feel like his voice is my own. And for someone who doesn’t always talk about his feelings, unless it’s to Meghan, my wife, that’s a very powerful thing.
With all of the accolades in his career – TNG, Stand by Me, TableTop, Toy Soldiers, voice acting and narration, or his lovable role on The Big Bang Theory – I truly believe his sincerity is one of the best things, ever. Listening to him speak made me want to talk about my own feelings. I wanted to be more outgoing than introverted. I wanted to continue to try and be a positive role model for my kids. For years, I tell my own kids it’s okay to tell mommy and daddy how you feel, and for some reason, it’s never been something easily attained for myself. Maybe that’s what I’m thankful for most of all, I’m thankful to have had that hour listening to Wil Wheaton. It reinforced what I’d seen on-screen. It reinforced what I’d seen online. It made me realize the person I grew up with watching TNG, was the person I needed most in that moment.
I know I didn’t have a conversation with Wil Wheaton. I know I didn’t get to sit across from him. I stood near the stage to take a few photos, sat down, continued to take photos, maybe even live tweeted, and felt a sense of pure joy rush over me in a way that’s nearly indescribable. I was so happy. This was the highlight of my weekend and my favorite convention moment, ever. Even my Instagram post later that day describes my thoughts perfectly.
Wil Wheaton, you’re so much more than Wesley Crusher. You’re a phenomenally good person and your honesty and enthusiasm are inspiring. I’m writing this as a way to express my gratitude, because your candor helped to ease my mind and let me feel comfortable enough to broach the subject of my own mental health. It’s not easy for me to mention, but your good-natured soul has helped me in ways I can only hope to inspire for someone else who might be looking for that lighthearted break from reality and understand it’s okay to be me. It’s okay to be honest about my feelings. It’s okay to be passionate about my love of geeky things. It’s okay to want kickass shoes that make me happy. It’s okay to throw out profanity from time to time. It’s okay to want my kids to see me happy, and it’s okay to talk to them when I have a bad day too.
I don’t want to be trapped inside of my head all of the time. Although I might not be able to always avoid feeling that way, seeing you in person helped me realize I don’t have to be and talking about it is okay. As you said, and I will try my best to follow, “Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a person you love who is struggling.”
Thank you for being you, Wil Wheaton. Your soul has helped this guy’s and I am eternally grateful.
P.S. Wil, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana is one of the greatest things I’ve ever watched. I’ve never played an RPG before, and if I ever do, I would love to have you as my Game Master – you were fantastic! I’ve watched the series over and over again more than any other online show. Okay, I’ll stop here because I could go on and on. Thank you, Wil.