The Man confronts The Boy in Wil Wheaton’s “Still Just a Geek”

Do you want to know one of my dirtiest secrets? One of the secrets I have kept bottled up in my brain for over 30 years now?

I wanted to be Wesley Crusher.

Sure, on the surface with my friends and fellow Trek nerds, I was an endless torrent of, “Wesley sucks!” and “Shut up, Wesley!” and the other soundbites that I thought that others would find generally acceptable, but the truth is, when I saw Wesley Crusher, this wide-eyed boy not much older than I was in 1987, walk onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise and get offered a chance to sit at the helm and pilot the ship, I was green with envy, a white hot jealousy of a fictional character I had never felt before even with that awful Rainbow Brite uniform! When I watched the adventures of Captain Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura, I thought, “I can be that when I’m older.” When I watched Wesley, I thought, “I can be that now.”

But I was an edgy little jackass and pretended to hate him because that was considered cool. Now, to be honest, I feel pretty guilty about it. Especially after reading Wil Wheaton’s book, Still Just a Geek which I was graciously given an advanced copy of for review.

Another insult that Trekkies threw Wesley’s way was calling him “The Boy,” an affectation of Captain Picard early in the series where he refused to call Wesley by his name. Now, I believe that “The Boy” has an academic use because Still Just a Geek is a man confronting a boy and all of his artificial edginess, snark, homophobia, and misogyny.

Still Just a Geek is a slightly updated and annotated version of Wheaton’s 2002 book, Just a Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise. While I never read the original book, that endeavor is not necessarily required because Still Just a Geek presents the entire affair once again, warts and all. Reading Still Just a Geek reminded me of The Wonder Years where a wiser version of the main character would chime in every now and then with a voiceover, admonishing his unaware younger self for all of his shortcomings, insecurities, and character flaws. These voiceovers come in the form of multiple annotations — and I do mean multiple as I cannot recall a single page without a note or a thought from Wheaton. He certainly has a lot to say to his younger self. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want to confront past mistakes and insecurities?

It’s certainly a brave decision on Wheaton’s part, given that he does not only demonstrate but also purposely highlights examples of misogyny and homophobia in his early writings, but every time he does, he talks about how ashamed he is and how wrong it was. To be perfectly blunt, this is laudable. To embrace the mistakes of the past, offer no excuses for them, and to simply say, “Look at how cringy I was back then. Look at how wrong I was.” I can’t recall another writer so unapologetically doing this.

Wil Wheaton at Comic Con. Photo Credit: Genevieve, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The rub is, of course, is that this makes Still Just a Geek somewhat of a exercise to read. Going back and forth between the writings of The Boy and the writings of The Man takes time and effort and it is an endeavor that you have to be extraordinarily invested in to get the entire experience. A couple of months ago, I was sent a copy of Brent Spiner’s book, Fan Fiction, and managed to read through it in a week. Still Just a Geek took me a month and that is with a constant scheduled effort.

Reading Still Just a Geek is not an unpleasant chore because, quite honestly, I do not think that I would have enjoyed the book as much as I did without Wheaton’s ruminations and footnotes. It’s just a read that takes time and extra investment, more than I was expecting when I began. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the structure of the book could have been better served by more than a revisit — perhaps a rewrite, but then again, if that had been the approach, we would have lost the man commenting on the boy and I’m certain that is an aspect of Still Just a Geek I wouldn’t want to lose.

I don’t know, I’m sitting here armchair quarterbacking a completed book. Is this what my life has come to? Because, seriously… if it has, it’s awesome.

The content of the book itself is a collection of essays written by Wheaton that appeared on his website so some of them, I was already familiar with. I practically salivated waiting for his William F***ing Shatner story (It’s in the book!). I hoped that he would do the retelling of “Datalore” that I had seen him perform online. “I’M IN STARFLEET, YAAAAAAAY!” (It’s not in the book, but I highly recommend you look it up on YouTube because it legitimately had me rolling).

I’m a trekkie. These are the things I expect.

And the things I expected are in the book and resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect. For one, Wheaton discusses The Star Trek Experience in the Las Vegas Hilton and, as he ruminates about the shops, restaurant, museum, and ride, I found myself growing sad and nostalgic for an experience that I will never have again.

The theme of many of Wheaton’s essays seems to be regret. Walking through life, Wheaton wonders if he did the right thing by walking away from Star Trek and trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to broaden his career. He talks at length about his interactions with the cast and The Man even expresses regret at how the The Boy objectifies his female castmates and women in general as part of his “warts and all” approach. It’s refreshingly brave and Wheaton offers no excuses.

One of my favorite portions of the book is called, “The Wesley Dialogues” and involves Wheaton auctioning off an action figure of himself to pay some bills. In this story, Wheaton uses the figure and an imaginary conversation with it to lay bear his fears and insecurities as he, in his mind, says goodbye to Wesley Crusher once and for all – which also seems to be a recurring theme in Wheaton’s life: Saying goodbye to Wesley and Star Trek. Again, there is palpable regret and sadness and, as a reader who could be psychoanalyzing way to much, I got the impression that saying goodbye was something that Wheaton wasn’t fully comfortable with and had thrust upon him before he was ready. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m projecting myself. Needless to say, overwhelming family lawyer fees and desperation to pay the bills speaks to me on levels that I’m uncomfortably familiar with and I had to liquidate many a beloved collectable myself to meet those unsufferable ends.

Another thing I noticed in this book was how reality and showbiz has the unfortunate habit of getting one’s hopes up and then kicking them in the head with a steel boot. Filming a cameo for Star Trek: Nemesis, reuniting with his fellow actors who he shows genuine affection and reverence for, and even getting respectful treatment from Rick Berman who, by many accounts, was a fairly terrible person to many people, only to have his part cut to nothing. Later, he recounts how he backed out of a family vacation to go to some auditions and how those auditions ended up a bust. The frustration practically radiates from the pages so intensely that it makes this reader’s cheeks burn.

The idea that he is not taken seriously or treated like an equal to the other Trek actors also rears its head multiple times. Being told that he wasn’t a member of the Star Trek family during a fight with Creation Entertainment really rang my gong. I know that the entertainment industry is cutthroat and unfair, but the idea of someone going for the jugular like that, negating years of a person’s life and saying that it means nothing, actually made me angry for Wheaton.

How dare they? That’s Wesley Crusher! That’s our Wesley!

I wanted to talk about all the Star Trek stuff first because I wanted to get it out of the way. A lot like his mission to leave Wesley Crusher behind and move on to other things in his life, I found that I was more emotionally drawn to the portions of Still Just a Geek in which Wheaton writes about the more comparatively mundane events of his life. When he wrote about how his stepson asked to be adopted by him, I had to stop reading for a moment because it spoke so much to my heart and, when Wheaton writes about the people he cares about, you can tell. There is more emotion in his words. More soul. You can tell where his heart lies and his words in those matters are so touching.

For example, Wheaton recounts the story of losing his Great Aunt Val. The segment is packed with so much sadness and loss and love that you cannot help but relate to it. He writes about a friend, Stepto, who died unexpectedly and, yet, through the sadness and tragedy, Wheaton manages to find smiles and humor when he recounts the words he said during the service. The mental imagery that Wheaton communicates as he meditates upon hearing of the loss is poetic. Probably the most beautiful in the book.

Without a doubt, and I really don’t think that I’m putting words in Wheaton’s mouth when I say this, the most special thing in his life is his wife, Anne. This is never in doubt and, when he writes about her, you half expect cartoon hearts and birds to erupt from the page. Recounting the cute way that she calls him, “Puss” and the way that she provides him with stability during his times of crisis, and the way that he frets and panics when she suffers an ovarian cyst… it’s love. I envy them. I have no other word for it but love. Pure love.

If there’s “warts and all” to the relationship, Wheaton has no interest in sharing it.

And that’s fine.

At one point, Wheaton describes his old blog posts that populate the book as an “unpolished, unvarnished, raw, conversational tone that, today, feels amateurish.” In that, he’s not wrong. There is much in his older writing that is… well, let’s just call it problematic and, please excuse the term… whiney. I can honestly see why that writer from Entertainment Weekly that Wheaton writes about said such unkind things about Just a Geek when it first came out (though, fairly, the EW writer was unnecessarily cruel as was the edgy stupid style at the time). What keeps Still Just a Geek from going down that same self-serving path are the annotations and notes from 49 year old Will Wheaton, admonishing his younger self and calling out his own wrongdoings.

As I said, going back and forth between the essays and the annotations takes work on the reader’s part and, at times, it becomes almost frustrating, but to see a criticism across time between Man and Boy and extra explainers on events that the author realizes he did not expand upon is more than worth it. Even little things like when a chance meeting with Steven Furst, an actor from Babylon 5 who passed away after the publication of Just a Geek, is annotated by what a good person Furst was and how much he is missed plays on the heartstrings. It is those moments that make the book worth reading.

In closing, although Wheaton goes out of his way to tell a story about leaving acting and Wesley Crusher behind him, I just have to say that, to me at least, he – or at least a part of him – will always be Wesley Crusher to me and I mean that with nothing but affection. He’ll always be that kid on the bridge of the Enterprise, only a couple of years older than me, who I envied and wanted to be… the thought of which made me unafraid of my own intelligence – though a fraction of Wesley’s – and made me strive to be better. To follow my own path to the stars and be the person I wanted to be. To man my own helm onboard my own Enterprise.

But the thing that I most took away from this book is that, at his core… this kid who sat at the helm of the Enterprise and hung out with people I would have given my right arm to have spent an hour with is one of us. He is just a geek and he makes no apology for it.

For that and for being Wesley, I will always be grateful and, for Will, I truly hope that he has at long last found that peace and security in himself that eluded him in his early life.

Will Wheaton will always be a member of the Star Trek family, but in his quest grow beyond that, he’s been more than successful, though not in the ways he intended. He’s become a survivor of the perils of childhood stardom, the dregs of being a has been, and has emerged as a winner on the other side. Perhaps not as the celebrity that he intended to be when he attempted to leave Wesley behind, but a star nonetheless. One of us who made it big and survived.

It’s a Cinderella story in ugly gray uniform.

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