book reviews, celebrities

A review of Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton…

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up watching a lot of cable TV. Sometimes, I also went to the movies. In fact, I went to the movies a lot more often in those days than I do today. In any case, at some point in my adolescence, I saw the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me. Based on a spooky novella by Stephen King, Stand By Me was a coming of age film starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. They were four 1959 era twelve year old boys from Castlerock, Oregon, who set out on a mission to see a dead body. On their way to find the body, the boys bond and have some near misses with both nature and technology.

Stand By Me also had a great soundtrack.

As most of Stephen King’s stories are, this one– originally known as “The Body”– was very poignant, compelling, and sometimes even funny. It also had four teenaged stars in it who were about my age. Most of my peers loved River Phoenix, who was an up and coming star. Tragically, he died in 1993 at just 21 years old, a victim of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. I was telling Bill last night that if River had lived beyond young adulthood, he would have been an enormous star.

I liked River fine, but Wil Wheaton’s performance in Stand By Me was the one that always stuck with me. He played the sensitive, thoughtful, aspiring writer, Gordie Lachance. I identified with Gordie, because I had my own aspirations of becoming a writer. In those days, I wrote a lot of fiction. Also, my journalism teacher in tenth grade was named Mr. LaChance, and I liked him, and that class. I probably should have stuck with journalism.

Stand By Me was probably the only vehicle of which I’ve seen much of Wil Wheaton’s acting, except for maybe guest spots on 80s era television shows. I see he was a guest on Family Ties, which was one of my favorite shows, back in the day. He was also on St. Elsewhere, although I didn’t really watch that show, because it was on past my bedtime. He was on Tales from the Crypt, which was a great HBO show I watched when I had the opportunity, and he voiced Martin in the film, The Secret of NIMH. Wheaton also famously played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Wesley Crusher was aptly named, because based on Wheaton’s book, Still Just a Geek, it seems that he wasn’t very well received in that role. I have no opinion on that, since I never watched the original Star Trek, let alone the reincarnations. I don’t know why I never watched it. Bill is a huge fan. Star Trek just never appealed to me.

Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.

Some time ago, someone turned me on to Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page. I started following it, and decided I kind of liked Wil. He seems like a basically normal, decent man who happens to work in the entertainment industry. He’s also a writer and award winning narrator. And, as a fellow child of 1972, I relate to a lot of what he posts on social media. We’re from the same era.

I was following Wil’s page when he started promoting his book, Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir. I ended up downloading it around the time it was released last spring, but I didn’t get around to reading it until I read Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. I figured Wheaton’s book would be a good follow up to McCurdy’s book about her “crazy” mother and chaotic upbringing in show business, against her will. Wil Wheaton has openly said that he went “no contact” with his parents, and had never actually wanted to be a child actor. Wheaton has maintained that it was his mother who had wanted to be an actress, and she pressured her children to go into the business. Wil happened to have talent, just as Jennette McCurdy did, and in the mid 80s, he was a household name. But what he really wanted to do was be a kid. He’s also found that writing is his true passion, just as Jennette has.

So anyway, it was Jennette McCurdy who prompted me to read Wil’s book, Still Just a Geek. Still Just a Geek is based on Wil’s first book, Just a Geek, which came out in 2004 and apparently didn’t sell well. He includes the original book in this book, along with annotations– explanations, contextual notes, and sometimes revised opinions of his that have changed since 2004. After the first book, Wheaton continues with chapters about his life today. A lot has changed since 2004, which it’s bound to do. In 2004, he was a young man, married to his wife Anne, and stepfather to her young sons from another relationship. In 2022, he’s still married to Anne, and has legally adopted Anne’s now adult sons, Nolan and Ryan. They changed their last names and everything. Wil has also stopped drinking alcohol– circa 2016– so some of what he wrote in 2004 doesn’t apply to his lifestyle today.

To be honest, I’m left with some mixed feelings about this book. I thought it was mostly very well written. I appreciated how candid Wheaton is, although there were times when I wish he’d shared more of the original stories that prompted some of his conclusions. For example, in the original book, it’s clear that Wil sees himself as his sons’ stepfather. He refers to himself in that way, although he also mentions that their bio father was a real jerk. He vaguely mentions that their bio father kept taking Anne to court for custody, and implies that he’s a shithead for doing that. Now… I don’t know much at all about Anne, other than seeing her in some photos with Wil, and reading his gushing comments about her. And, God knows, I totally understand about being the second spouse of someone who has a narcissistic or abusive former spouse.

Because I’m a second wife, I am not so quick to automatically accept what people say or write about their exes (and just to be clear, I get that not everyone believes me when I rail about Ex in my blog). In my case, I wasn’t allowed to be a stepmother to my husband’s daughters, and he wasn’t allowed to be his kids’ “everyday dad”. And he was painted as a horrible, abusive monster to his daughters, which just plain isn’t true at all. Wil never explains much about Anne’s ex, other than to write that he’s a bad person. And, for all I know, he really is a shitty person, and Nolan and Ryan were totally right to ask Wil to be their legal dad.

On the other hand, Wil is himself estranged from his own father, claiming that his dad has always been abusive and negligent toward him. He doesn’t write a lot about that, either, at least not in this book. However, Wil did write a few passages that indicated to me that his father wasn’t all bad. Like, for instance, he wrote about his father’s touching reaction to Wil’s grandfather’s death, and how Wil realized that one day, he would be mourning his own father’s passing. That was in 2004, though, before he had ceased contact with his dad. So, I guess I just wish he’d provided more context to both of those stories, and the one involving his stepsons who are now his sons. Maybe it’s not my business– but if it’s not my business, it probably shouldn’t have been included in this book. I can, by the way, also relate to Wil’s having a rocky relationship with his dad. I had a rocky relationship with my dad, too, although we were never really estranged. I understand that going “no contact” is sometimes necessary for one’s sanity, but I also think it’s something that should be done as a last resort.

The footnotes were a bit distracting for me, although reading on Kindle gives readers the choice to read them or not. I enjoyed Wil’s notes, especially when they were funny or provided context. Sometimes, though, I found some of Wheaton’s comments a little annoying and self- indulgent. It stands to reason that people try to present themselves in the best possible light, even when they admit to not being their best. Wheaton provides quite a few examples of when he sometimes acted like a jerk, as we all do sometimes. However, there were a few times when I wanted him to just state, “I was a jerk,” and not make any excuses for being a jerk. He apologizes a lot for acting the way most of us did in less enlightened times. It gets tiresome after awhile, and doesn’t always ring as sincere. Sometimes, it felt like he was trying too hard to be sensitive and “woke”, and it came across as a little fake to me. I sense this on his Facebook page, too, especially when he posts about certain issues– like the pandemic, and how we should all be handling it. Some of his comments come across to me as more like what he believes he “should” be thinking instead of what he actually thinks, if that makes sense.

But that early career helped launch his current career… if he hadn’t been a child star, where would he be today?

I did enjoy reading about Wheaton’s experiences making Stand By Me, which I still think is a fabulous film. I couldn’t relate to his comments about Wesley Crusher, although I do know who William Shatner is. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me cringe a bit for Wheaton… Shatner was allegedly quite the asshole to Wil. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me glad I was never a Star Trek fan. I also liked reading about Wil’s experiences being a computer geek in the 80s. I wasn’t a computer geek then, but I did have a friend who was one. And some of what he writes about his experiences with BASIC and other computer languages remind me of the time when I still counted my former friend as my best friend. Those were fun times, before reality set in, and I realized she wasn’t actually a good friend, after all.

At the end of the book, Wheaton includes some interviews and speeches he’s given, along with a couple of “Ask Me Anything” posts he did. To be honest, I kind of skimmed through most of that stuff, because speeches are meant to be heard, and aren’t that much fun to read. I did notice that the fresh content of this book comprises only about thirty percent of the book. The rest of it is old stuff cobbled together into this volume. That was okay for me, since I never read the first book, and I’ve not followed his career closely. Super fans who pay a lot of attention to what Wil’s been doing his whole life might be disappointed by Still Just a Geek. I see some Amazon reviewers have given Wil low ratings and claimed he’s not a good writer. I disagree with that. I think Wil’s writing is fine. I just wish he’d written something fresh, and included fewer footnotes, which can be very distracting. And I wish he’d just write his story and explain why he has so much animosity toward his parents and his wife’s ex. I get that they’re personal stories, and maybe he’s already explained elsewhere. But in Still Just a Geek, he makes many references to those people without really explaining his feelings behind the negative comments. I was left a little confused and wanting more information.

And finally, I admire Wil for reinventing his career, doing what he wants to do, making healthy choices, and loving his wife and sons so much. I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5 and would recommend it to those who haven’t read Still a Geek and are interested in Wil Wheaton’s story. I think it will particularly appeal to those who care about Star Trek, which I don’t. But I was sincerely interested in the parts about Stand By Me, and enjoyed reading those sections.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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Ex, mental health, movies, psychology

Going full on Annie Wilkes…

I remember back in 1991, I was a freshman student at Longwood College (now known as Longwood University). A new movie by Stephen King had come out in late November of 1990. It was titled Misery, and it starred Kathy Bates and James Caan in the primary roles, with support from Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall, and Frances Sternhagen. My good friend, Chris, who was a fellow English major and writing enthusiast, told me about the film. Chris and I both liked to write fiction, and the story was about an obsessed fan who held a novelist captive in her home, forcing him to write to her specifications. It was very compelling to us.

I’m pretty sure that we saw the movie together at some point, but I don’t remember when, or how. At one point, Chris worked at a video store in Farmville, the town where our school was. Maybe he brought the movie home one night and invited me over to watch it. Or maybe he just told me about it, and I watched it on HBO. In any case, the point is that it resonated. We used to make jokes about the movie, especially Kathy Bates’ character, frumpy Annie Wilkes, who just happened to be a very skilled nurse with a screw loose. I remember laughing about how Annie called James Caan’s character, novelist Paul Sheldon, a “dirty bird”, and referred to him as “Mister Man.” All the while, Paul tried to keep his cool and appease his captor, in the hope that on some day he might escape her clutches and reclaim his life.

He didn’t get out of the “cockadoodie” car!!!

As 18 year old writers who aspired to be “famous” someday– remember were 18 years old, and still had our whole lives ahead of usMisery was a story that pointed to the potential pitfalls of fame. In the film, novelist Paul Sheldon, who had created the Victorian romance heroine Misery Chastain, and made a huge name for himself, found himself in a real bind when he was in a serious car accident during a blizzard in rural Colorado.

At first, Annie Wilkes is Paul’s savior. She’s a highly skilled nurse, capable of saving Paul’s life and providing him comfort. But she’s also deranged and angry, and she has an unhealthy obsession with Misery, and the man who created her. The movie has some comic elements to it, and is genuinely entertaining. But, as it’s a Stephen King story, it’s also horrifying! There are parts of that movie that I can barely stand to watch, even though parts of it are almost cartoonish.

“You dirty bird… how could you?”

Well… I was reminded of Misery yesterday, as I read tweets by Ex, who is a big fan of a certain novelist. By and large, I don’t read novels myself, so I don’t know this writer’s work at all. But Bill knew who she was, and he said that when they were married, Ex was a huge fan of the writer’s. And Ex, who spends a lot of time on Twitter, tweeting celebrities with thinly veiled requests for money, had contacted this writer with a “proposition”. Someone had asked the writer if she had published a new book yet. The author wrote that she had “barely begun writing” her newest book. And Ex, in true “Annie Wilkes” style, tweeted this:

…I have a proposition… I’ll come over, you can tell me the story in true storyteller form. We will record it, digitize it, have it auto printed out and then you can have some meat on paper to play with and edit! What do you think?? I have ‘granbairns’ in Arizona to visit!

The author, to her great credit, responded very graciously. Perhaps she’s seen Misery, too. She wrote this:

A generous offer! I’m afraid I don’t write “in true storyteller fashion”, though. I don’t write with an outline, I don’t write in a straight line, and I have only the vaguest notion of things that might happen.

Again, I don’t read many novels anymore, so I haven’t read any of this person’s books. It looks like she’s very popular, though, as others were posting on the thread. She’s probably had to deal with more than one “Annie Wilkes” in her career. Before anyone comes at me, allow me to state that I wouldn’t necessarily think this about Ex if I didn’t know her, or about the things she’s done. I do think it’s an odd offer to make to an author, especially since I’m pretty certain she was being totally serious. She does have grandchildren in Arizona, too, so if the writer had taken her up on her offer, it would be an excuse for Ex to go bug former stepson and his wife.

Anyway, Ex responded with more over-the-top ego stroking and praise, which may or may not be sincere. Ex often tries to seem like a really good and interesting person, but sometimes she goes so far that she comes off as totally fake and a little screwy. She wrote, complete with emojis and Scottish flags:

Hmm…given that, I now have hope that my stories will make it to print. The method you enjoy…works! Please, just keep doing it; you create lives, no small feat! Remember me, though; it would be a delight to collaborate. I’m a Fraser du Lovat, by the way, & that’s fun!!

Lately, Ex has been claiming to be a member of a prominent Scottish clan. I have no idea if her claims are legitimate. What I do know about her is that she was adopted, and had a genuinely horrifying childhood. She’s supposedly met her birth parents, or met one of her parents, who explained that she had been the product of an extramarital affair. If that story is the truth, I don’t know how, under those circumstances, Ex would find out about her supposed ties to famous Scottish families. But hell, maybe she’s being honest. Or maybe not. Maybe telling herself she has noble family ties makes her feel better about herself. If it means she’s kinder to the people in her life, I’m all for it. My issue with her, though, is that she’s done a lot of real damage to people, to include my husband, who was her second husband. If she was just a little batty and eccentric, I could easily and happily ignore her. But I know firsthand that she can do serious harm to people when she puts her mind to it.

Well, I doubt the author she’s tweeting is in any serious danger. Ex is nutty, but she’s not THAT nutty. Or, at least I hope not. I don’t want to read a news story about an obsessed fan from New England going all “Annie Wilkes” on a novelist out west. But, at least at this point, Ex seems most likely to harm her husbands and exes, than she is other folks. This writer is someone she clearly admires, though. It’s a little creepy to see her boldly offering her “services” in this way. I hope Ex never calls that author a “dirty birdie”. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of being a famous writer… it’s probably safest to stick to being an unpopular blogger.

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musings

“Us vs. them…” a statement on the state of things…

Well, once again, it’s Friday. Bill is coming home today after having been gone for the past few days. I started reading Maus yesterday, after having read about the uproar the book is causing in the United States. I’m about five chapters in so far, and I can already see why it won a Pulitzer Prize. I’ve never been a big comic book person and it never would have occurred to me to read a graphic novel before I heard of Maus. And yet, the drawings and dialogue, which author Art Spiegelman has so cleverly created, have really drawn me in. I forced myself to stop reading last night, because I was afraid I’d get too emotional and have trouble sleeping. I think it helps that Art Spiegelman was influenced by Mad Magazine, which was one of my favorite magazines when I was growing up.

Of course, I also started another book on my Kindle app that is potentially equally upsetting. But I don’t find the subject matter of the e-book quite as horrifying as I do the subject of the Holocaust, which disturbs me on many levels. And it’s mainly because I now live in the country that perpetrated those horrors, as I watch my own country go down a similarly destructive path. I only hope that some day, the United States will heal in the ways Germany has, complete with citizens taking full responsibility for the attitude of disdain and hatred people have for each other and the damage that attitude does.

I really think that Maus is deemed “inappropriate”, not because of the word “God damn” and the prospect of young people looking at mice in the nude, but because most young people are not stupid, and some of them will connect the dots. No, I don’t think it’s gotten to the point at which people are being hauled to camps, starved, and gassed, but I think it’s important to remember that the Holocaust didn’t start that way, either. It started with the “us vs. them” attitude, and a charismatic leader who cast blame on people he deemed “undesirable”. Right under the noses of otherwise decent people, he made it okay to be hateful and cruel, simply due to who people were and their life’s circumstances. It eventually got to the point at which people thought of “them” as non-human.

I think the pandemic kind of adds to this phenomenon. There’s just so much disrespect across the board nowadays. People are fed up with the constant rules, restrictions, sickness, and death. That fatigue crosses over into other things… Not that the rudeness didn’t exist before COVID-19, but it’s gotten much worse. I’ve noticed that if you aren’t squarely on one side of the issue, people assume you’re on the side that isn’t theirs, rather than assuming that maybe you’re in the middle. And they seem to think that makes it okay to attack.

Last night, I was reading about the Maus controversy, and the arguments being presented on both sides were stated in ways that were anything but friendly. One very vociferous man… or, as vociferous as a person can be on the Internet, was insisting that taking Maus out of the curriculum was the right thing to do, since it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for all audiences. Anytime someone argued with him, he basically accused them of being “obtuse” or “stupid”, even if their arguments were intelligent and reasoned. He doggedly took on all comers, too. I didn’t respond to the man myself, since he was just like so many other people I’ve run into– strangers who forget that there are people behind the posts to which he was responding. I don’t enjoy arguing with people I actually know, so I knew I wasn’t wanting to argue with that guy. But I did notice that he had a “Red Wave” vote Republican sign on his profile… which automatically makes me wonder if maybe he wasn’t just projecting.

This level of “disdain” doesn’t just come from conservatives, though. There don’t seem to be many “good guys” who are just moderate and normal, and want things to be fair for everyone. Or, maybe there are people like that, but they are staying quiet. I try to write about these things myself, because I think more people need to read a more centrist view. Before Donald Trump came in and wreaked havoc on the Republican Party, I used to think some of the conservative ideals made good sense. But now, it’s being run by a bunch of religious zealots who think it’s “Christlike” to carry weapons and force people to give birth.

Likewise, I don’t like how liberals try to cram their ideals down everyone’s gullets, self-righteously preaching to anyone who isn’t completely on their bandwagon, and arrogantly acting like they’re superior to those who aren’t “woke”. It takes time to change people’s views, even when the views are considered politically incorrect. A person who has politically incorrect views may not be all bad, though. Sometimes, people evolve. I don’t think it’s helpful to unilaterally condemn people… although both sides of the political spectrum are certainly guilty of that practice.

I admire people who are civil. I wish I were more civil myself. I try to be, and I think I’ve made progress over the past 25 years or so, but I still have a temper and strong sense of what I consider to be right and wrong. Like, for instance, a more civilized person might be more magnanimous toward my husband’s ex wife. There are times when the better part of me looks at her with empathy. I truly am sorry she went through the things she did when she was a child. I wouldn’t wish that for any human being, not just because I don’t like to see people suffer, but also because I know suffering causes people to hurt others. It’s a condition that is as contagious as COVID-19.

I mentioned that I’m only five chapters into Maus, but one thing I immediately noticed was at the very beginning of the book, when Art draws himself as a boy who was left behind at the playground and is deemed a “rotten egg”. He sniffles that his friends abandoned him. His father wisely pointed out that most friends turn less friendly in times of adversity. Lock people up, treat them badly, and take away things they need for survival, or even just comfort, and you’ll soon see them turn against each other, and see each other as less than human. To a much lesser extent, we can see this “us vs. them” attitude in daily life, as each side is convinced that the other wants to take over and make things worse for them. In fairness, though, I can see why each side feels that way. I just happen to lean more toward the left right now, mainly because I truly believe Donald Trump and his most rabid followers are very dangerous people.

But maybe these people have always been out there. I just never noticed them before, because we’ve always had people in charge who had at least a scintilla of decency. Donald Trump is probably the most shameless malignant narcissist who has ever lived in the White House. I don’t even think he believes in a lot of the ideas he pushes. He just says what riles people up. He may find that he’s awakened a beast, because I have a feeling that some of the people he’s agitated may turn on him, and not toward decency and diplomacy.

Anyway… I am just a nobody here in Germany, writing yet another post for my little read blog. I sure would like to see some sun… and it will be good to see Bill, who makes what I do worthwhile. I’ll probably get more into Maus today. If you haven’t read it yourself, I recommend picking up a copy; if you can find one. Besides being very cleverly conceived, I find the interaction between Art and his father, Vladek, very moving. I’m gratified to read it. Maybe I should thank the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee for inadvertently educating me. I doubt I would have been determined to read this book if it weren’t controversial and “banned”.

Stephen King is right.

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