Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton: Running from the Past

Just a Geek by Wil WheatonFor all the fandoms I follow and embrace, there are two large ones I have never been able to really get into. The first is Star Wars beyond the character design and Disney World ride. The second is Star Trek, which I enjoyed in the context of Futurama and Family Guy. Wil Wheaton, for me, was that villain on The Guild that got his own show on Geek & Sundry playing tabletop games with other geeky celebrities. I was aware that he was connected to Star Trek and that his character wasn't well liked (thanks, Family Guy). That was secondary to seeing a smart and funny actor having fun online.

Wheaton's 2004 memoir Just a Geek is a combination of blog entries from wilwheaton.net (abbreviated WWDN) and narration connecting the stories. It tells the story of a man running away from his fame by any means necessary, even creating an alternate narrative of success spun out of half-truths and total fabrications.

Just a Geek is a compelling story for anyone to read because of the narrative technique. Wheaton is narrating his own story with an understanding of where he winds up. This isn't an attempt to capture the exact mindset in the past; he has that already with the blog entries. What he adds is commentary that details what he was trying to do in even creating the website.

I cannot speak to the novelty of the Star Trek-specific sections from a fan's perspective. I don't know how much of this conflict and fear was common knowledge to a dedicated The Next Generation fan. What I can say is that the story told through these auditions, missed opportunities, and lost contacts rings true.

The small modicum of success I had as a performer during my college years pales in comparison to Wheaton's filmography. Yet all the signs of frustration are the same. Chapter after chapter of Just a Geek features the most dreaded of acting stories. You get called back again and again to audition for something. You're told, point blank, that you're going to get the job if person x, y, or z has their say. Then you get the apologetic phone call that the project is going in a different direction. You were great but someone else booked the gig. It's not even that the other person was better; that's just the direction they went in.

This kind of rejection wears you down. It makes you anxious. Your family and friends start to be a little too supportive, making you resent their comfort on top of trying to prove to everyone that you're good at what you do. I've never read a book where someone has so accurately voiced this maddening cycle of false hope and rejection. That alone is reason enough to seek out Just a Geek.

Like Wil Wheaton, I've also found a more comfortable identity as a writer. I still perform, but it's secondary to putting words on the page and engaging with a far wider audience than I ever imagined without having to memorize lines and dances. Wheaton's story just feels so honest because I see so much of my own experience in the story he crafts. Any performer will see it, too, and probably anyone whoever went after a dream that drifted just a few inches beyond their reach.

Just a Geek is, simply put, a great book. It's a memoir without ego that refuses to polish over any undesirable traits. The combination of new and old text creates a far stronger narrative than either element would alone. This is the fascinating story of an entertainer who finds satisfaction in a series of roles he ran away from most of his life.

This review is part of Cannonball Read V. Come read some great reviews for charity.

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