The Big Idea: Wil Wheaton
For most of the readers here, the name Wil Wheaton is a familiar and even beloved one: Actor, television host, famous nerd, and award-winning, best-selling audiobook narrator. And also, in case you didn’t know, an accomplished writer and essayist. In Wil’s new book, Still Just a Geek, he revisits an earlier work, revises and expands it, and in doing so, opens himself of to the truths within it, good and bad. And, as he explains in this Big Idea, finds a way through all of it, using his own voice.
When I narrated the audiobook of Redshirts, and got to the codas, I emotionally faced what it would feel like to lose my wife, and live the rest of my life without her. The story called for a very different set of emotions than I was feeling, and after a bunch of runs at the scene, the director and I decided that I needed to take a break, process all that emotion, and then come back to the booth.
About an hour later, we recorded what’s in the book.
Until I narrated the audiobook for Still Just A Geek, that was the only time I’d had that experience. It turns out that writing about and then narrating the single most traumatic event of my life was even more emotionally challenging, because it wasn’t a story. It was my life.
I never talk about how much I was abused when I worked on this movie called The Curse, after Stand By Me. It was such a traumatic experience, I’ve done everything I can to forget it. But it’s a big part of who I am, and when I did Still Just A Geek, it was part of my story that I needed to tell.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I was afraid that the emotion was too raw, too intense, just too much for the listener. I didn’t want to do it again, but I asked Gabrielle, who directed me (and who I’ve known forever) if it any of those things I feared were true.
She assured me that it was all honest, and all the emotions I experienced as I read it were entirely appropriate. I’ve known her long enough and done enough books with her to trust her judgment.
This is where I reveal that the director for Redshirts and the director for Still Just A Geek are the same person. She’s been there on the other side of the glass for both of these intense, emotional experiences.
That scene, from Redshirts, was tough, but absolutely worth it. I believe the performance is solid, and I’m proud of it. When I was done, though, I completely left it all in the booth. I told Anne about it when I got home, hugged her until she was like “okay that’s really enough” and we went on with our lives.
Put a pin in that for a second.
In Still Just A Geek, I write a lot about the child abuse, neglect, and exploitation I survived and still struggle with. It was incredibly challenging to revisit (and in the case of The Curse, relive) all of it. In the afterword, I wrote that I expected that doing that work would lead to a catharsis, but all it did was retraumatize me.
That was true, until I narrated the audiobook. Over the course of six or seven days, I said everything I wrote in the book out loud. I gave a voice to the child who was put to work against his wishes at seven years old. I gave a voice to the teenager who was abused by his father. I gave a voice to the young father and husband who was struggling to provide for his family while he also struggled to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
And in so doing, in speaking these words out loud, feeling the emotion that went with them, and defiantly saying, “This is my story. This is my truth. This is what happened to me, and here’s how I survived it,” I found the catharsis that the writing didn’t provide.
In the infamous William Fucking Shatner story that’s part of Just A Geek and now Still Just A Geek, I remember that, when my costumer asked me how my meeting with him went, I didn’t want to say out loud that he was a dick to me, because that would make it real. But saying it out loud set in motion the most incredible series of events, as the adults in my life on the set of Next Generation all stood up for me, protected me, defended me, and made sure I knew that I was loved. That’s something I never got at home, or ever, from either of my parents.
When I did the narration for Still Just A Geek, saying what I wrote out loud made it all real. I’d been hoping my whole life that I’d hear from my parents that my experiences were real, were valid, and that I was enough. I have had to accept that I’m never going to hear that from them, but I have heard it from myself.
It turns out that the voice I always needed to listen to was my own, and doing that audiobook narration allowed me to hear it for the first time in my life. I didn’t leave it in the booth. I have it now, in my memory, and I’ll keep listening to it as long as I need to, until my healing is complete.