I spent the weekend in Portland, visiting my sister and her family. I also saw some friends, and recorded an episode of Livewire Radio. It was a gorgeous weekend, with perfect weather, so we got to walk even more than we usually do when we visit.
We were walking downtown with my sister and her son when I spotted this in the street next to the crosswalk:
I got really excited, because it’s the first Toynbee tile I’ve ever seen that wasn’t just a picture on the Internet. While I was taking this picture, Anne was counting down the seconds on the crosswalk. Hearing “…4…3…2…1″ while I was taking the picture made the whole stupid thing a little more thrilling than it should have been, but I’m easily entertained.
One more picture (as promised in the title) before I get ready to go to the set:
Steel Bridge is one of my favorite bridges in the country, and this weekend was the first time we walked across it and up the opposite bank of the river. When we were about a quarter mile from it, heading toward a different bridge to cross back to downtown, a boat came up the river toward Steel Bridge. “Dude! If we hurry, we can get up to the bridge and stand right there when it goes up!” I said to Anne.
“You think we can make it?” She said.
“Yes. I know we can.”
“Are you sure it’s going to go past the bridge?”
“Unless it makes a U-turn in the middle of the river, it has to go past the bridge,” I said. “Come on! It’ll be cool!”
We turned around and walked quickly back toward Steel Bridge, the boat slowly gaining on us. When we were about 500 yards from the bridge, the boat blew its horn, presumably to alert the bridge person that it needed to go up … but when I looked at the boat to see how far it was from the bridge, I saw that it had blown its horn to alert nearby vessels that it was making a U-turn in the middle of the river.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said, laughing, as we walked onto the bridge and began to walk back across it. “Well, it would have been cool.”
Anne laughed with me, and held my hand.
It was just after midnight, but thanks to the heatwave we’re having, it was still unseasonably warm. I walked comfortably in my T-shirt along a tree-lined street, the scent of orange blossoms filling the air.
A few miles away, cars on the freeway created a sort of white noise that I could pretend was a distant river. I looked into the sky, and saw Mars, red and beautiful above Vega, so bright it nearly outshone the brilliant white star.
I walked through the warm night, replaying the incredible events of the last few days, marveling at how lucky I am to be who and where I am. I walked into my house, and my dogs greeted me at the door. After inspecting me in the usual fashion, they trotted back into my bedroom, where I’d soon be competing for a spot on my bed with them. My wife was asleep, and I gently kissed her forehead before I got ready for bed.
I woke up this morning before my alarm, my head resting against my puppy’s head, who was sound asleep and snoring to my left. I moved, and she grumbled, stretched her legs, and snuggled back into me. From the foot of the bed, I heard Seamus’ tale thump, and I heard Riley walk into our bedroom, her nails clicking on the wood floor. I opened my eyes and looked to my left. Anne was already out of bed, and likely out of the house. I arched my back, stretched my legs, and kissed Marlowe on her little puppy forehead. Riley had arrived to the side of my bed and looked at me with her I’M A DOG face.
I stayed in bed for a few more minutes, before getting out, petting my dogs, letting them out, making coffee, and getting into my office to start my day.
Tomorrow is the second annual International Tabletop Day! It’s TableTop Day 2: The Tabeleoppening Return of the Gamers Tabletop Harder Electric Boogaloo!
As I write this, our fellow gamers in those parts of the world where it’s already tomorrow are playing more games, and I’m so excited to join them when we finally catch up, here in California.
There are thousands of events all over the world, and you can find one close to you by going to TableTopDay.com. Also, if you’re able to attend an event at one of the friendly local game shops who have partnered with us, you’ll have a chance to get some truly epic limited edition expansions to some of our favorite tabletop games.
If you’re going to be playing games at home, or you’re stuck at work and still want to get in on the action, you can watch our livestream, which begins at noon Pacific time, and you can follow the #TableTopDay hashtag on Twitter, for cool pictures and stories and big news all about Tabletop.
Also, I would love it if you would share your stories and pictures to the Tabletop Tumblr I run, As Seen On TableTop, so I can share your games with the world.
Also also, if you want to tell me what you’re planning to play tomorrow, or let me know what games you’d like to see on future episodes of Tabletop, use the comments here, for great justice.
About a year ago, my friend John Rogers and I walked to lunch, talking about how we’re living in a golden age of incredible scripted television. With very rare exceptions (Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, Castle) much of what’s on traditional broadcast networks isn’t particularly interesting to me, but the basic and pay cable channels are consistently producing programs that are so incredible, we’ll be talking about them decades from now. Shows like Mad Men, The Americans, Masters of Sex, Game of Thrones, Justified, and Boardwalk Empire are just a few of the compelling reasons to subscribe to cable, and I haven’t even gotten into the Doctor Whos and True Bloods of the world.
During this conversation, Rogers asked me if I was watching Orphan Black.
“I haven’t heard of it,” I said.
If we’d been listening to a record, it would have scratched straight across to the center. We got to a red light, and waited for it to change.
“You must stop everything you are doing and go directly to iTunes to buy it. It is one of the most amazing series, ever.”
“Those are pretty big words from guy who wrote Catwoman,” I said. (I kid. I kid. We have fun.) “So what’s the pitch?”
“A woman named Sarah is on a train, and when it pulls into the station, she sees another woman who is having a pretty bad time. That woman turns around and looks at Sarah, and she’s an identical twin.”
“Ohhhh twins,” I said. The light changed, and we crossed the street.
“Listen. She’s an identical twin, but before Sarah can say anything, she jumps off the platform and becomes part of a speeding train.”
“Yes. So Sarah is like a punk or something, we’re not sure, but she needs money, right? She thinks for a second, grabs the dead woman’s bag, and assumes her identity.”
We got into the shade of a tall building. It was one of those days we have in LA where it’s miserably hot in the sun, but the shade is comfortable and soothing. “Oh, this sounds really cool!”
“It gets better. By the end of the pilot, we find out that the dead woman is a cop, and then we find out that she and Sarah and a bunch of other women are clones.” He looked sideways at me, knowing that he’d set the hook.
“Holy shit again.”
“And Tatiana Maslany, who plays all of the clones, is just fucking amazing. She will blow your mind, she is such an incredibly talented actor. By the second or third episode, you’ll forget that the same actor is playing all these different roles.”
“Wait. She acts in scenes with herself?!” We walked out of the shade and back into the sun. I squinted my eyes against it, and shaded them with my left hand.
“Yeah, and she does it in every episode,” he said. He landed me in the boat.
“This sounds incredible. How’s the writing?” We got to the restaurant, and I held the door open for him.
“It’s phenomenal. The storytelling is tight and crisp, the photography is great, and I know you’ll love it.” I imagined him standing on a dock, next to my body, strung up by my feet, posing for a picture with Actor Fishing Quarterly, a shit-eating grin on his face.
“Well, I am all over this. I’m buying it as soon as I get home.” I walked to the counter. “Burrito al pastor, extra spicy, no rice,” I said. I looked at Rogers. “Hashtag burrito watch.”
When I got home that afternoon, I went directly to iTunes and bought the series. I watched the first three episodes before I had to stop myself, because I knew that Anne would love it, and I’m always looking for something awesome for us to watch together.
Life happened, and we didn’t get to sit down with it for a month or so, when I saw that Season One of Orphan Black had been added to Amazon Prime Streaming. “You have to watch this show,” I said to Anne.
“You’re not the boss of me,” she said.
“You’re right. Let me try again. You’re going to love this, and I want to watch it together.” I didn’t give her any more details than that, because I thought it would be fun for her to discover the clone situation on her own.
I was right, and we binged the entire series over the next three days. We’ve been counting down to the start of the second season ever since.
I’m telling this story today, because I got super lucky, and was invited by BBC America to host the season 2 kickoff show next week!
But check this out: For my job, I get to meet and talk with and geek out all over Tatiana Maslany and the cast of Orphan Black. Orlando Jones and Patton Oswalt will also be there, and it’s called The Cloneversation.
… THE CLONEVERSATION, CARL!
The Cloneversation airs at 8pm Eastern/Pacific on April 12, on BBC America. Orphan Black’s second season begins on April 19 at 9pm on BBC America.
Oh, and speaking of television, I’ll be on yours tonight (if you’re in the US or Canada) in a new episode of The Big Bang Theory, where I got to do what I think is the single funniest things I’ve ever done on television.
About a year ago, I had a meeting with a production company, who wanted me to host a show for them. The concept was simple, I thought it had the potential to be incredibly funny, and I really liked the people I met with.
“I can’t just be a host, though,” I explained. “I’ve been producing Tabletop for two seasons, and if I’m going to be the public face of a show, I need to have a hand in its creative direction. I want to write for it, and I need to be a producer.” Over the last couple of years, I’ve done more and more work off camera, and I’ve learned a lot about how shows come together and develop in the writer’s room and the editing bay. I love being an actor on camera, but it feels very much like I’m doing a small part of the overall production. If I was going to host a show, and if I was going to be the face of that show, I needed to do more than just stand in front of the camera and read lines. I wanted to help make the show.
“Of course,” the head of the company said to me, like I’d just told him that I’d need to breathe air during production. “We want to do this together.”
That was all I needed to hear. We agreed on the general idea, and spent the next several months working out the specific details of the show. About six months later, we went to the network to pitch it.
Pitching a show to a network is weird. You take your creative team to their offices, and then you sit across from a bunch of executives and tell them why they should buy your show. It’s sort of like an audition, but instead of just giving a performance, there’s an intense Q&A after (and sometimes during), and you have to be able to think quickly, and be prepared for anything. It could be very stressful, but this particular meeting wasn’t stressful for me, at all. I believed in the concept of the show, and I knew that it could be really cool if the network would trust our ideas and let us make it.
The pitch meeting went very well, and it turns out that the network trusted our ideas, and pay for us to make a pilot.
“Did you want to make a pilot that we could air, or would you prefer to do a non-airable pilot?” The head guy asked us.
“We’d much prefer to make something that doesn’t have to go on the air,” I said, “so we can show you all the different concepts and pieces.”
“Okay,” he said, “go and make your best pilot, and we won’t worry about putting it on the air.”
I couldn’t believe how … well, easy the whole thing was. Unlike auditions, where I often feel like the other people in the room are sitting back and just waiting for me to leave, the network executives I met with that day last year were engaged, enthusiastic, interested, and seemed genuinely excited about the show. As the creative team — now my creative team — and I walked out of the building, one of them said to me, “that’s the best pitch meeting I’ve ever been part of.”
“Really?” I said. This guy’s done hundreds of pitch meetings.
“Yeah. You did great.”
“I guess it’s easy when you really believe in something and are excited about it, huh?”
“I guess it is!”
Another few months went by, and we continued to work on the show, refining it and pitching ideas to each other. We hired some great writers and segment producers, and spent lots of time making each other laugh, finding out what bits worked and didn’t, and trying to come up with a name for the show (that turned out to be the hardest part of the whole process).
Then, about three weeks before we were going to shoot our pilot, disaster struck: the network executive who green lit the project was out, and our show was probably gone with him.
In the entertainment industry, it’s not uncommon for executives to move around, but when that happens, any projects they had approved are always killed. The reasoning goes that the new person who takes over won’t want to keep any of the old person’s projects, because they don’t want the old person to get any credit for anything. Lots of really great projects have died this way over the years, and I was pretty sure that my show would join them.
I called the production company, and asked if we were finished before we had even really started.
“No! The network loves you and loves this idea,” he said, “and the new guy is apparently a fan of your work, so we’re still on target to make the pilot.”
I couldn’t believe it. It spoke volumes about the new guy’s character and confidence, and it said something pretty good about our idea, too.
Do you remember the day photoshopwilwheaton.tumblr.com was born, the day I took a stupid picture of myself and said that I was working in front of a green screen all day? That was the day we filmed our pilot.
It felt so weird to feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I walked into the stage and met the crew. I feel so comfortable with my Tabletop crew, and I know the crew at The Big Bang Theory so well, to meet and work with a crew I would probably only see for one day was a new experience for me. Would they like the show as much as we did? Would they laugh at our jokes? What would I do if they didn’t? In the fifty or so steps it took me to get from the stage door to my mark, the magnitude of what we were doing — the culmination of months of hard work — and what was at stake for us threatened to paralyze me. When I got to my mark, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that a lot of smart and funny people had helped get me to that very moment. I told the familiar voices of Self Doubt and You Really Suck, Wheaton, to shut up and let me do my work. I looked up at the camera and said, “Hi, I’m Wil Wheaton, and this is The Wil Wheaton Project.”
Just like that, all the nerves and doubts went away. I didn’t think about all the risks and all the ways I could screw up. I just had fun doing the work we’d written. I made the crew laugh over and over again, I amused myself, and I made the writers and producers laugh. We shot hours of stuff, knowing that it would get cut down to just 21 minutes, and by the end of the day I was creatively, emotionally, and physically exhausted. It felt great.
On my way to my dressing room, one of the network executives who had come to the set to watch stopped me. She told me how much she loved it, how funny she thought it was, how much she liked me as the host, and that she wanted to get it on the air right away.
“Thank you,” I said, unsure how much salt I should be using to season the effusive praise, “I had a lot of fun, and I’m really glad you liked it.”
“Well I loved it, and I hope that we get to do this together for years.” She said it with so much kindness and sincerity, I put my mental salt shaker away without using a single grain.
Imagine a montage here, of editing and more editing and even more editing. Imagine that the camera dollies across a room filled with network people, their faces illuminated by the flicker of a television that we can’t see. Some of them are laughing, others are stoic, most of them are smiling. We get the impression that they like what they see. Now we cut to me doing various things, like walking my dogs, homebrewing beer, doing some Rocky-like training for some reason. Days and then weeks go by on a superimposed page-a-day calendar. the pages fly off while I call and email my production company to find out if we’ve been picked up. The camera cuts to a time lapse shot, high over Hollywood, as the sun tracks across the sky, the traffic ebbs and flows, and city comes alive at night. That shot has nothing at all to do with the narrative, really, I just think it looks cool. The montage ends as I pick up my phone to make one more call.
“So, it’s been a long time and we haven’t heard anything,” I say to my executive producer, “should I just assume that it didn’t work out?”
“What do you mean?” He says. “They picked us up for 12 episodes. We’re in pre-production!”
“Nobody told you?”
I recalled the last conversation I’d had with the head of the company, a week before. I replayed it, and realized that I’d misunderstood him.
“The last I heard was that they liked it, but I thought that they hadn’t given us the official pick up.”
“Oh no. They love us. They love you!”
I felt this strange mixture of excitement and embarrassment, wrapped up in a blanket of silly.
“I have to say, this is the strangest way I’ve ever found out that something I did got picked up by the network.” I laughed, and we made plans to meet so we could discuss the writers and producers we’d bring on for the full three month production process (and hopefully years more, if the network likes us enough to keep us going.)
I hung up my phone, and then it hit me. I mean, it really hit me: the show we’d worked almost a year to make, the show that I’d thought was dead but wasn’t more than once, was actually going to happen. For at least twelve weeks this summer, I’d be hosting a weekly show on television, and I’d get to help write and produce it.
I whooped and hollered and ran around my house, while my dogs tried to figure out why I had the zoomies hours before they usually got them at 5:30pm every day.
Imagine another montage that serves to pass some more time, and ends with us having a meeting with the new guy at the network. Probably include another one of those time lapse shots of a city at night that I think are so cool, but this time a couple of thunderstorms blow over, because those look really neat in time lapse.
“I have to tell you,” the new guy says to us, “that a lot of people have tried to crack this particular nut, and nobody has ever been able to make the show you brought us work.”
We wait for him to continue, and he does, “But this is the funniest pilot in this genre that I’ve ever seen. You guys did a great job!”
I exhale, and thank him. We spend about an hour with him and the rest of his team, making sure we all know exactly what the show is going to be. We talk about what worked and what didn’t work in the pilot, discover that we all agree on those points (a huge bonus for all of us, because it means we see the show the same way), and by the time we’re finished we’re all excited to get the show on the air.
We’re not going to do another montage, because I have to publish this in fifteen minutes and I don’t have time. Let’s just do a simple time cut to me, sitting in my office wearing my Captain Kirk pajamas, writing this out. Marlowe is sleeping underneath my desk, and Seamus is quietly grumbling at me from the couch behind me, because they should have been given their breakfast an hour ago, but I’ve been writing nonstop since I woke up.
This is the part where I finally stop describing the process of creating this show and bringing it to life, and actually tell you what it is, and where and when you can see it.
The show will be on the network formerly known as Sci-Fi, and it is called The Wil Wheaton Project. It premieres on May 27th at 10pm.
The Wil Wheaton Project is a weekly roundup of the things I love on television and on the Internet, with commentary and jokes, and the occasional visit from interesting people who make those things happen. It’s sort of like Talk Soup for geeks, with a heavy focus on those hilariously bad paranormal reality shows (in fact, that’s where the whole thing started a year ago, but as we worked on the show more and more, we discovered that there were lots of scripted paranormal shows that provided a ton of comedic material. When we expanded to cover the scripted shows, we discovered that nobody was doing a show like this that was just focused on the genre shows that nerds like us love, and we decided that we’d make that show because of reasons.)
The official network announcement will be coming out a little later this morning, but I’ll put a little bit of it here, because I can:
Syfy has greenlit the 12-episode summer series, The Wil Wheaton Project (working title), a weekly topical comedy show hosted by actor and champion of geek culture Wil Wheaton. The 30-minute show will offer a funny, fast-paced exploration and celebration of science fiction and genre entertainment. The series premieres Tuesday, May 27 at 10PM ET/PT on Syfy.Each week, Wil provides his insider point-of-view, sense of humor and expertise as he dissects the week’s most popular and trending topics across sci-fi film, television and pop culture, as well as video games, viral videos and news. Wil is on his feet for the rapid-fire half hour, delivering sharp, straight-to-camera commentary as he riffs his way through content clips. The result is a fun appreciation for all things science fiction.
I really love that I get to be part of something that brings Science Fiction back to Syfy, and if I read correctly between the lines during our meetings with the Syfy executives, this is just the beginning of the network formerly known as Sci-Fi returning to its science fiction roots, which is awesome. Developing the show has been incredibly fun, and like I wrote last week, when I met the full staff of writers and producers, I was floored by how talented and funny they are. We’re going to make something that I just know you’re going to love, and I hope that so many people love it, we’ll get to make it for years to come.
If you have questions about the show, the process of bringing it to television, or anything related to it, ask them here and I’ll do my best to answer all of them.
UPDATE: A couple FAQs have emerged, so let me answer them.
Q: Will this be online?
A: I don’t know, but I hope so. I’m pushing everyone who will listen to me to put episodes online, but ultimately that isn’t my decision.
Q: Will this air in [country that is not the US]?
A: I don’t know, but I hope so. That’s a decision that the network will make.
Q: Will this mean no more Tabletop?
A: No! I made sure that everyone knew I’d be doing Tabletop, and I made sure that my contract included language that would guarantee my ability and availability to make Tabletop.
Q: When will you know if you get more then twelve episodes?
A: I think we’d know about halfway through the summer, but I can’t say for sure. I’m pretty sure that if enough people watch and like the show, the network will order more episodes.
While I was making breakfast this morning, Seamus was trying very hard to convince me that I should let him have bacon.
I really like the way this shot turned out. I just held my camera out, fired a few frames, and got lucky.
Last year, at Denver Comicon, I answered a question from a young woman who was having a hard time at school, because kids were being cruel to her. She asked me if I was ever called a “nerd” when I was in school, and how I handled it. Here’s my answer:
This seems to be going viral today, and made it to the top of the front page of Reddit yesterday, where her mother commented:
That was my daughter. She and the girl that bullied her are cool with each other this year. They aren’t in the same class, though. This year has been a good year, but she noticed another little girl in her class kept getting picked on by the other students. She became this girl’s friend and stands up for her when the other kids are being mean. We’ve talked about this moment a lot. After this panel, she paid to get her picture taken with Wil. He actually hugged her!
That was my daughter that asked that question. This was a magical moment for the whole family. What you might not get from the sound of all the applause is that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room after this. Mia met Wil again briefly at the Kansas city con this year, and he was as gracious and cool as you could have hoped. They talked about minecraft, ballet, mistakes, and silliness. Wil Wheaton, you are an honorary member of this family and I hope you know that you have made a real impact on Mia and the rest of us silly nerds. I wish you nothing but the greatest success. Oh yeah we love Tabletop too.
I’m so happy to learn that she and the girl who was mean to her have changed that relationship dynamic, but I’m so incredibly proud that she’s standing up against bullying with other kids in her school.
I really try my best to be the person I want other people to be. I don’t always succeed, but when I see things like this, and hear from people who have been touched or inspired by something I said or did in a positive way, it reminds me how important it is to do everything we can to be awesome.
Speaking of being awesome, please enjoy this picture of her that her mom put on Reddit last year.
UPDATE: via Medium.com, a transcript:
When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time—because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool—and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things—and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.
I wish that I could tell you that there is really easy way to just not care, but the truth is it hurts. But here’s the thing that you might be able to understand—as a matter of fact I’m confident you will be able to understand this because you asked this question…
When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.
They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you. They don’t understand the things that you understand. Maybe one of their parents is pushing them to be a cheerleader or a baseball player or an engineer or something they just don’t want to do. So they take that out on you because they can’t go and be mean to the person who’s actually hurting them.
So, when a person is cruel to you like that, I know that this is hard, but honestly the kind and best reaction is to pity them. And don’t let them make you feel bad because you love a thing.
Maybe find out what they love and talk about how they love it. I bet you find out that a person who loves tetherball, loves tetherball in exactly the same way that you love Dr. Who, but you just love different things.
And I will tell you this — it absolutely gets better as you get older.
I know it’s really hard in school when you’re surrounded by the same 400 people a day that pick on you and make you feel bad about yourself. But there’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing—and we’re all doing really well.
So don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something they decided is only for nerds. You’re loving a thing that’s for you.
At MegaCon, I announced that I’ve been developing a television show that I host, write, and produce. Here’s a little bit more about that show.
I can’t say which network it will be on, but the network picked us up for 12 episodes, and we’ll start airing in May. If everything goes according to plan, and they make a full order, I’ll be on your television almost every week for the rest of the year. This show is really funny, and I can’t wait to get permission from the network to talk about it in more detail. I heard today, though, that the network plans to make a formal announcement next week sometime.
Wednesday, I met with my entire staff of writers and producers, and I was blown away by the talent and brilliance of the team I’m going to be working with for the next three months (and hopefully the next few years). I wish I could talk about this in more detail, but until I get the go-ahead from the network, know this: For at least 12 weeks this summer, I’ll be coming into your home to share some funny and awesome stuff with you, and I’m really super excited for you to share the experience with me.
I don’t know what happened to the actual sweater, and I’ve never heard from its owner since that one fateful night at DNA Lounge so long ago, but for a few of us* it is a silly thing that makes us happy. It’s sort of an inside joke that we share, and I love that.
So, today at shirt.woot, you can get your own version of it, designed by me and my pal Rich Stevens. If you’re one of the few, you may want to pick one up. In fact, I hope you will, so that we can coordinate some massive picture at GenCon or something like that, where a bunch of us are wearing it … because people need help with their nightmares.
*probably a few thousand, but still, a few
I am not dead, I have just been very busy with the travel and the secret projects and etc.
I have many stories to tell, and they will be told as soon as I have the time to properly tell them.
Until that time arrives … COMMERCE!
The new Humble Bundle has a bunch of really great books, and one of them is mine! My book The Happiest Days of Our Lives is available in ePub and MOBI formats for the very first time, as part of this bundle.
You can also get Steven Gould’s JUMPER, the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology, Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, and even more.
The whole thing is pay-what-you-want, but if you pay at least $15, you will get the audio version of Cory Doctorow’s HOMELAND, read by me. I’ve done a lot of audiobooks in the last few years, and I can honestly say that this is one of my favourites. I’m intensely proud of the work we did on it, and I want everyone who enjoys my audiobook performances to hear it.
Okay, before I go help Anne with a thing, a picture of me being classy in a sequined bow tie:
On Wednesday last week, I picked up my script in my dressing room, and in the upper right corner, it said that the script was for Will Wheaton, playing the part of Will Wheaton.
I picked it up, and walked into the stage. I found one of the assistant directors, and told him, “I think there’s been a terrible mistake. I’ve been given someone else’s script.”
I showed him the name. He looked mortified. “Oh god I’m so sorry. We’ll fix that right away.”
I laughed. “It’s not a big deal, and I can fix it myself right now.” I grabbed a pen and turned the superfluous Ls into little boxes, like I’ve been doing my whole life. “I really don’t care. I just thought I could make a joke about it, and I’m easily amused, so…”
He laughed with me and apologized again.
“I’m not a prima donna,” I said, “and people have been doing this my whole life.”
He spoke into his walkie. “I have him here, and we’re walking.” He turned to me. “They’re ready for you, sir.”
We walked around the back of the stage and along the space that separates the audience from the set. Today, that space is filled with cameras and equipment, but on rehearsal days, it’s empty and quiet.
“When I was in grade school, I went to this really authoritarian parochial school, and they were all about conforming to the rules. One of my teachers — I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher — used the dreaded red pen to add an extra L to my name for the first few days of school, until I got really upset about it and asked her to stop.”
“Jesus, she really did that?”
“Yeah, it was not a particularly awesome time for young me.”
We arrived at Howard and Bernadette’s apartment. “So I learned early on that it’s important to not be too precious about it, and now it’s funny to me.”
Later that day, after our rehearsals were finished and the script was updated to reflect changes the writers made, I got a new script, and it was actually mine, because it had my name on it and everything.
We’re shooting some scenes without the audience today, because there are something like 16 scenes in this episode, and if we shot all of them in front of the audience, it would make for a very late night.
Tomorrow, we’ll shoot almost the entire show in front of the audience, including the scenes that I’m in, where I play Wil Wheaton. He’s just this guy, you know?
A sharp knock on my door, seconds before it opened. The assistant director poked his head into my dressing room and told me they were ready for me on the stage.
I closed my book. “Here I go!”
We walked into the stage together, and I continued on into the set where we were rehearsing this particular scene. Kaley and Johnny were already on there when I sat down next to them.
“You should never take that hat off,” Johnny said to me.
I looked at him to see if he was being sincere, or giving me the business. Before I could figure out which one it was, he said, “it looks really good on you.”
I smiled. “You are one of my fashion heroes, so that really means a lot to me.”
Inside, I secretly felt cool for almost three whole seconds.
“I mean it,” he said.
“Thank you. That was very kind.”
Kaley dramatically put her script down. “WOULD YOU TWO GET A ROOM ALREADY?!”
I gave Johnny a sly look that he did not return. “Do you want to just sit on that couch together?” I asked.
We all laughed together, and the director called for quiet.
We ran the scene, and I killed a joke*. We ran it a second time, and I nailed the beats I needed to nail. I felt calm and focused and — for the first time I think, ever, since I started working on the show — like I really and truly deserved to be there. I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge: it felt really good.
I thanked the director for the notes he gave me, and returned to my dressing room where I waited to be called back to the stage, to bring Evil Wil Wheaton (who is decidedly less evil than he used to be) back to life.
Later, I saw Melissa and Kaley waiting to run one of their scenes. “Let’s take a picture for the Internet,” I said.
“I really like that hat on you,” Melissa said.
“Thanks,” I said, “I was just lazy this morning and didn’t want to do my hair, because it’s just a tiny bit too long and I can’t get it to behave. But I’m getting compliments, which is pretty awesome.”
I held out my camera, and we took a silly picture that I put on Twitter.
The writers all came into the stage, and we ran the entire episode for them. Everyone laughed really hard in all the right places, and it’s pretty clear that this episode works. I can’t wait for the audience to see it on Tuesday, and I am so grateful that I get to be part of this wonderful experience.
*Note that this means I wrecked the joke, because I delivered the line poorly. This can be confusing to normal people who hear us talk about comedy, because when a joke works, we say that the joke “killed”. So: killing a joke is bad, but making a joke that kills is good.
Comedians are obsessed with death, I guess, or at least dying on stage.
The second song on the Kill Bill Volume 1 soundtrack is a fantastic rockabilly number called That Certain Female. It has this great thick guitar riff with a lot of echo and delay and, for me, it conjures up images of Route 66 under a new moon, windows down and radio blaring as a ’58 Chevy puts miles between its mysterious driver and Chicago as fast as he can lay them down.
This music fills the dark and bug-spattered spaces between Amarillo and Tucumcari, staccato white lines flashing by in the headlights, the smell of exhaust and old tobacco swirling with dust.
Is he running toward something or away from something? Or is it a she behind the wheel? What’s in the trunk? What’s in the backseat? When we see the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror, briefly lit by the glowing cherry of a cigarette, are they determined? Resigned? Afraid? Tear-stained? Vengeful?
Maybe they are all these things.
The road goes on.
So the JoCoCruiseCrazy IV was amazing. I have many feelings and memories and pictures to share, but I’m in this sad little bag of post-cruise ennui, and until I can get past it, here’s a video that the amazing Molly Lewis shot on the cruise.
This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.
Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.
I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.
We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)
Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.
Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.
John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:
Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.
Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?
Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell — I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.
If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.
It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.
Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?
Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.
(This piece was written in response to a prompt “about a lost balloon.” Part one appears here.)
“Fiona, please,” her mother said. “We’re already late and we don’t want to upset your Grandf—,” a trumpet cracked over an unseen intercom.
“Well, would you look at that,” a voice called out. “My, my, my, my, MY what a beautiful girl. You’ve grown up quite a bit my little Potato.” Fiona’s eyes widened in utter confusion.
“Honey, look up there,” her mother crouched down and pointed at a factory window. A dusted silhouette of a man waved frantically.
“My word, you’re even more majestic than I remembered. Please, please, come in, come in.” The trumpet sounded once more as the man disappeared from the window. Not a second later, a small hatchway swung out from the middle of the monstrous steel doors. Fiona stepped back as her mother dropped her hand and rushed forward. A balsa-framed man shuffled under the half-sized door frame and popped upright.
“Hello, hello, hellOOO,” he said, spinning in place.
“Oh, Grandfather. It’s been far too long,” Fiona’s mother said, bent halfway down, and embraced him. Her shoulder smashed into his nose and jostled his small spectacles.
“Oof,” he said.
Fiona hadn’t moved an inch forward and, in fact, had been slowly tip-toeing her way back to the car. She hoped that the displacement of her Grandfather’s glasses by her mother’s clumsy shoulders would allow her to flee beneath the cover of temporarily muddled vision.
“Fiona,” her mother said. “Fiona, get over here this second and give you Grandfather a hello and a hug.”
Fiona stopped mid-tip and set her toe back to the earth.
“Excuse me, young lady.” It was once her mother resorted to florid address that she knew any objection led only to public abjection. “Fiona Loreli Lawst, you turn right around, march over here, and give your Grandfather a hello and a hug immediately!”
Fiona grumbled before contorting her furrowed face into a plasticine smile.
“Hello Grandfather!” She curtsied before skipping toward him with a stomach full of molten disdain. Despite requiring a pink and purple step stool to reach most anything, Fiona’s Grandfather needn’t kneel nor crouch to greet her. Rather, he bent slightly at the waist and patted her head.
With his eyes squinted and a contented grin he said, “A happy hello to you, my sweet Potato.”
The blurred frantics of her mother’s hand signed, “hug hug hug!” Fiona begrudgingly leaned forward in the hopes this singular hug might suffice for any future expectations of expressed affection, but she groped only air. He had walked away.
“Come now, we have a few things to see, some things to do, and much, MUCH fun to be had. Now,” the double-steel doors howled on their hinges as he continued. “Now, I know it may not appear as ample in amusement on the outside,” his voice trailed a bit as he swung into a shadowed recess on the left wall. Fiona heard crunching gears and clacking buttons. Her mother stood beside her, clapping with anticipation. “… but, aren’t we taught never to,” he trailed off once more. Blue and red lights spun against the furthest wall while whistles and horns screeched and bonked. Her mother squeaked as she bounced in place barely able to keep herself contained. “… a book by her cover,” Grandfather bellowed. He cartwheeled out from behind his magic curtain cheering and dancing as the ceiling almost thirty feet above shattered into thousands of balloons that cascaded onto them in a kaleidoscopic hail storm. The stone wall they faced groaned as it began tottering and teetering. Fiona vaulted back as the immense slab slammed into the ground enveloping her in a cloud of soot and sand. Her mother wailed in delight. Tears sprinted from her eyes as she collapsed in ecstasy.
“It’s… it’s more wonderful, more exquisite than I recall,” her mother choked through tears. Her Grandfather rested his hand on her trembling shoulder. She whirled about, still on her knees, clasping his hand in both of hers.
“May — may I please,” she begged.
“Of course, my dear. There has never been a time you weren’t welcome to come back,” he beamed. She rose, still clutching his hand, “Thank you, oh thank you, Grandfather,” she stammered. “Fiona, Fiona, oh my sweet Fiona. You must come see. You must,” her mother’s eyes were shiny with hysteria.
“Go on, my dear. Fiona and I will only be a moment.” Grandfather removed a handkerchief from within his jacket and handed it to Fiona, “Here little Potato, wipe the dust from your eyes.” She gratefully took it and rubbed with ferocity. Through the cloudy sting and wobble of teardrops, her eyes refocused just as her mother vanished into the mass of dancing, flashing, laughing, singing, and spinning that had revealed itself. It was a golden-glazed paradise. It was in that moment Fiona understood that any prospect of happiness fate had attentively and thoughtfully laid out for the remainder of her life had been stomped out, extinguished, utterly ruined by comparison to the raw bliss that now ensnared her.
Her Grandfather rested his chin on her shoulder and whispered, “Breathtaking, isn’t it?”
Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.
At night, my dog slinks into the living room and jumps up on the couch with me. He’s a whippet mix that we adopted from a rescue fair in 2005. Max. He came with the name.
He’s a gentle dog, eternally happy that we saved him from a lonely life lived, abandoned and sleeping underneath parked cars in South Central Los Angeles. He showed no signs of abuse, but he was found with no tags and covered in dirt and oil stains. When we met him, we immediately liked him. My two year old ran up to him before we could stop her, and he licked her face gently. In the hectic hot sun of a park filled with excited dogs waiting for new humans to please take them home, he was panting and scattered; flitting back and forth on his leash, desperately trying to make sense of the unusual crowded mixture of people and animals around him. We struggled for a moment, still grieving the loss of our previous whippet mix, but his gentle spirit and perpetual smile won us over. After some discussion, we took home our new friend.
It’s become more difficult for him lately. He has arthritis in his right hind leg, and the boundless energy we used to curse has become a casualty of his age. He still gets after the squirrels every morning, but in the same way an old man tries to keep up with the grandkids. The desire is still there, but the pep is waning.
He liked me best, almost right away. We lived in a two bedroom rented beach cottage in the South Bay, and he’d lay with his head on my lap every night as I fell asleep watching TV in our tiny living room. The back yard was an exceptionally large one for Manhattan Beach, and there was nothing he loved more than chasing the tennis ball on a rope that I’d throw endlessly across the yard. When I ran out of energy, he’d stay outside and race around in the overgrown thicketed lot until panting exhaustion. A single abrasive bark was my cue to come let him back inside. It’s one of those barks that’s impossible to ignore. Grating. Unpleasant. It’s incredibly effective at getting me off of the couch.
These days, he goes outside to sniff the air and do a quick patrol around our much smaller yard in the Valley, but within a few minutes, he’s at the back door firing off that same annoying bark. Old man Max.
My kids want a puppy.
(All kids want a puppy.)
They put together a presentation for us on why we should get a brand new puppy. It was cute, but I had to pass on their proposal.
“Max is our dog,” I told them, “and if he could talk, he’d tell you he’s not interested in a new puppy roommate.”
“But puppies are so cute,” they persisted, “and Max is old and stinky!”
A fair point.
“We can talk about a puppy after Max dies,” I mistakenly told them.
“So we can get a puppy after he’s dead?” they asked eagerly.
“We can TALK about it,” I said.
“Yay! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy!” they sang.
I’ve inadvertently made my children excited for the death of our family dog. Great work, me. Pretty glad Max can’t speak English.
He’s old and stinky, it’s true. But he’s the most loyal, gentle, patient dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s endured three children in all stages of their mayhem. He’s been colored on, had his hair pulled and eyes poked, had his tail yanked and ears gouged, and he’s never so much as nipped at them. He still sleeps with me on the couch for as long as he can endure the discomfort of his arthritic leg. When I come home from work, he’s still as excited as the first day we brought him home.
So yes, maybe someday we’ll get another dog.
But for now, this old stinky one is the only one we need.
When I was in grade school, we played outside at recess. Hilldale Elementary had a small playground and a forever-scape of dirt and grass that we turned into our warzones, dragon lairs, and Super Bowl gridirons. A dormant but deep sinkhole sat on the north edge near Highway EE, and that’s where I was headed when the lightning cut out of the clouds. It was one of those bolts that carried its thunderclap on its nose, and for the noise it made, a bomb might as well have dropped on my head. Instead, because I was a pre-teen doofus, I jumped in the air, pulled my knee to my face, and knocked my nose sideways. My nose is still crooked, and I still know lightning doesn’t have to strike on target to hurt like hell.
Something looked different about Linda.
It’s been more than a decade since she started handling my finances. We handle most things online. I see her this time every year to settle my business and personal taxes. When I went to her office yesterday, I was struck by a niggling suspicion that something was wrong. She’d stopped coloring her hair. She looked tired.
I was distracted, worried about how much I was going to have to pay, whether I could get in a run before dinner, and every other silly thing that goes along with life as an adult. She asked if my family was planning any big vacations for the year. I babbled about my finances, and then asked her what she trips had planned.
“We usually go somewhere after tax season, but I don’t think we can this year,” she said. She drifted off and looked at my returns on her dual monitors.
“Why not?” I said.
I heard the words leave my mouth just as my brain figured out what was different about Linda.
She had no breasts.
“Oh, Linda,” I said.
Three months ago, she went to the doctor for an ear infection. Something seemed off, and her doctor sent her to a cardiologist. That doctor found a mass, and together they elected for the surgery.
“Don’t go to the doctor for a ear infection,” she said with a half-smile, and then went back to working on my K-1.
MONSTER IN THE FIELD
Last week, police say a man named Craig Wood snatched a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens from a neighborhood street on the west side of Springfield, Missouri. Wood, a stranger to Owens, then allegedly shot her in the base of the skull, put her in a bag, and hid her in a plastic tub. When I wrote about it, I took a modicum of comfort in the fact that such crimes were exceptionally rare. I called them lightning strikes without a god to blame for them.
The crime shook the Springfield community in a way few have. Thousands of people took to the streets in the hope of finding some peace in the kind of rare crime that will haunt a city forever.
When you have a career in news, desensitizing yourself to tragedy is a survival skill. You learn to turn off your heart to the daily earthquakes humanity inflicts on itself. I don’t know how many dead bodies I saw in my day, and I’m grateful for that. I moved away from Springfield more than 20 years ago, and I still felt my stomach clench every time I saw a new part of the Hailey Owens story come out.
As children, we feared bogeymen who would snatch us off the street. As adults, we fear what might come up from our guts, attack our insides, and confuse our brains. The rest of the time, we think about how those same invisible creatures might take our friends away from us.
Last month, in the span of a few days, the following things happened: a person I know committed suicide. A guy who went to my high school was arrested for murder in a Texas ghost town. Two of my friends died of cancer. It felt like a veritable field of lightning where every strike tore holes through my eardrums and shook the ground at my feet. It made me wonder which was worse: the fear of losing someone to a monster, or the sadness that inevitably follows.
And then I went to finish my taxes.
Linda is worried about the chemo. Six years ago, her mother struggled through it.
“I don’t want that,” she said, shaking her head.
The doctor has convinced her the chemo treatments have improved and that they could save her life. It’s tax season, though, and this is when she has to work. She literally can’t afford to be sick.
“I’ll do chemo on Fridays,” she said, but then as if just thinking of it herself, “but I do returns on Saturdays sometimes.”
She nodded again, as if saying to herself, “I’ll get through it, because I have to get through it.”
“I’ll be thinking about you,” I said when I left. Linda smiled and thanked me. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since. She was handling her cancer with a southern woman’s strength and poise that I couldn’t help but admire. It was like the lightning had struck, and she had managed to grab it with her hand and hold it tight.
There is a certain freedom in being a child. You’re expected to run with abandon, be careless, and live like tomorrow is as sure as today’s sunrise. That’s how it should be, no matter how dark the sky gets.
As adults, however, we know the dark skies mean more than hidden sunshine. We know they’re going to slam down on the people we love, and then eventually crush us, too. It scares us, this existential indifference and inevitable end we’ll all meet.
We leave the playground, and as adults we bandy our responsibilities while keeping a close eye the rolling gray in the sky. We worry about taxes, careers, schools, mortgages, and retirement plans. When something starts to look odd, we pretend like it’s something else, sometimes until it’s too late, and, too often, we do it alone.
I think about the people who’ve been struck around me: Frank check-raising with a weak flush draw, Texas Scott donning a tiara and laughing like a loon, Chris clipping coupons and proudly getting 60 cents off on chicken breasts. They were people I played with beneath the clouds. Their deaths have shaken me, but they also remind me of the power of childhood. Maybe life is not so much in its potential or its end, but in how much of its games, music, art, and friendships we can harness. Maybe that’s the only shield that can protect us.
Back on the playground at Hilldale, we grabbed hands and pulled each other into the field. Even as the teachers yelled at us to come in from the storm, we sprinted and laughed and dared the sky to explode. It was a child’s courage, but courage nonetheless. Maybe that was how it was meant to be.
Linda believes she is going to be okay. I’m going to believe that with her. To not would be to disrespect the bravery she’s discovered in a place I’ve not yet found.
* Linda’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto currently works at HBO and is the former banhammer at Xbox. He is an author, comedian, and leader of The Steptos.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the members of my tribe who are my age. We really know how to hold a grudge. Especially if it’s borne out of the Internet or Internet culture. I’m seeing more and more people refusing to forgive even in situations where they should and I wonder if we’re setting a bad example.
I should pause here and let you know up front, I’m going to have to be a little vague in providing good examples for my opening sentence. This is Wil’s blog and thus (through no fault of his own) functions as a sort of orbiting Ion cannon for focusing opinion. I don’t want to name any names or provide concrete descriptions. So please bear with me as I navigate this topic with a tad less specificity than I might my own blog.
Here’s how the situation usually goes:
Person says or does something either on the Internet or at a con or industry event that’s objectionable to about 99% of normal people. In the grand scheme of crimes, “objectionable” isn’t high on the list. However the Internet allows us to elevate and publicize. For many topics that’s good! Because those topics are often ignored or normalized and thus need the shock value of a large mass of people saying “That’s not OK!”
Occasionally this out-sized reaction results in the person who committed the original offense saying they are sorry. Not “sorry you were offended” but “wow. I had no idea I was being that bad. I’m sorry.” Maybe they got fired from their job. Maybe they got hounded or received death threats. Maybe they lost sponsors for their YouTube channel. Whatever the reason, justice was served (sometimes way past the original crime) and they realized what they did was wrong.
Then the geek tribe welcomes the person back, pats them on the back, says ‘that’s OK glad you learned your lesson, maybe you should hold a panel or something on what you learned?” and everyone just gets on with their lives.
Oops that last part doesn’t happen.
Instead many of us assume a bizarre mantle, that of “Well they apologized but I simply can’t accept a person who would do or say such things to begin with!” I know a person who actually keeps a list of all the Internet people who have done something that offended them. They simply refuse to interact with those people ever ever ever. The list is at last count three dozen people, at least four of which I know personally who are not bad people at all just made a mistake and atoned for it.
I’ve carried a lot of hate or grudges in my life and let me tell you something true and strong: they are heavy. You don’t realize it when you pick them up, because the initial umbrage or anger gives you a kind of emotional +15 to STR. But forgiveness is like being morbidly obese then dropping 100 pounds at a go. Not to mention one crucial fact: there can be no salvation without forgiveness.
I want to be clear I’m not saying you have to forgive everyone, I’m not even telling you who to forgive. My fear is that people my age, those of us that grew up before nerd and geek culture resulted in number #1 rated prime time TV comedies, back when we were getting punched in the throat for drawing a dungeon on graph paper by Joey McJockBully or teased for being a girl who liked Super Mario by Susie McEasyBake, we formed an early skill at seething hatred. Sometimes we create a bad example for the younger set who are perhaps no less tormented but far more ingrained in the general culture.
Again, this is merely a concern of mine. I see it, and hey maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion. But what I have learned to do when I see the latest Twitter outrage is I might join the conversation or I might not. But I will watch like a hawk to see how the perpetrator reacts. I watch for actual contrition and regret. And I’m starting to see a lot more “An Open Response to X’s ‘Apology’” then responses to those responses then responses to those responses etc. etc. when maybe, just maybe, we pat X on the back and, if we truly believe it, say “try not to do it again, and share what you learned.”
Everyone says and does something stupid or hurtful at some point. The Internet allows us to do it in front of the Earth. If we’re going to set the bar for forgiveness as high as “some words on a forum or a hurtful comment on a panel are unforgivable crimes even in the face of true contrition*” then I fear for the future of our tribe.
Wil says don’t be a dick, my corollary is to steal from Bill and Ted and that we also should be excellent to each other. Some things really are unforgivable, it’s true. And it’s up to each of us to decide the baggage we want to invest in carrying. But I’m old enough to have inadvertently perfected the art of being a jerk, forgotten it, then reinvented it only to regret it all over again. For that, I am sorry. I have to forgive myself, because that’s what comes with age.
So there but for the grace of the flying spaghetti monster go I.
*While we’re at it let’s define contrition by intent not execution. I watched a guy apologize for his apology because his apology wasn’t apologetic enough (even though it was accepted by the original aggrieved party) and he still ran into the Internet umbrage buzz saw.
Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.
(This piece was written in response to the prompt “Write about a lost balloon.”)
Fiona was only 4 years old when she first met Grandfather Lawst. When her mother pulled her out of the car seat and set her on the parking lot gravel, she was immediately concerned that maybe they had arrived at an abandoned brick factory, or perhaps a textile warehouse. Certainly, a balloon factory would be more cheerful, brighter, made of rubbery spires and bouncy drawbridges. But, having only just learned to read, she labored through the flaking chiseled banner’s words and mouthed to herself in confusion.
“Mommy, what’s a Last Allin Elteedee,” she asked.
“Sorry, honey, what? Oh, no dear, that says Lawst Balloon,” she replied.
Fiona hadn’t experienced much in the way of disappointment in the 4 short years she’d been alive, but when it came to balloons, there was a specific expectation she had come to rely on.
“But, why is it like this?” she asked.
“Like what?” her mother asked, crouching down.
“Well, um. Why is it old?” she asked.
“Papa’s family has had this balloon factory for over 6 generations,” her mother said as she unrolled her fingers to count. “And when you have something for a long, long time, it changes. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not as fun.” Her mother smiled.
Fiona puffed her cheeks up in protest; without a bouncing drawbridge there’d be no way to get inside. She might’ve been taught the realities of a balloon factory before they had turned down the dirt road some miles back, and even before they had left the house, but she wasn’t ready to accept them and assumed that her stubbornness had some sway. “But…” she paused. She let go of her mother’s hands and turned to face Last Allin. It was gray. Very gray. Even the sun that shone behind her seemed to sink from a vibrant yellow to a flat gray, very gray, as it neared the factory. There was no way it housed balloons. No monolith of apathy so dusted, no facade distraught with shattered glass eyes and rusted, broken-teeth gates could keep an iota of the summer-blue sky caged. It was outright paradoxical, this notion that such happy creatures were birthed within the belly of this brooding behemoth. Then again, Fiona was only 4 and her understanding of the principles underlying the conception of balloons had not yet fully formed.
“It’s scary,” she said.
“Come on now, Fiona, Grandfather has been waiting long enough. I’m sure he already knows we’re here. We don’t want to be rude.”
Fiona struggled against the tide of her mother’s pace, but a quick glance unfastened her knees. She dropped her eyes to her feet and watched as the dust rose and fell with each defeated kick of her toe. The daisies on her dress had already started to fade as they neared the double steel doors of the Lawst Balloon Factory. If she had ever before seen the frown of a child that had just been given a gray balloon, she wouldn’t have to wonder how sad she looked at that very moment.