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Fame and Connection

15 January 2005

Sometimes fame works exactly the way you want it to. You go to a concert or a movie and you are entertained with what the famous person is doing. He or she does their job, you pay your transaction for the experience, you are entertained, you go home satisfied.
Sometimes, however, fame backfires and what you really just want is connection, but fame gets in the way.
Last night I went out to the city with Julie and Matt and I had a double-whammy of fame backfire. First we went out to see Wil Wheaton sign at the Borders on Union Square. I’ve been following Wil for a while now, a couple of years at least since my friend John at work turned me on to his web site, and I picked up his book ‘Dancing Barefoot’ at the 2003 Open Source Convention in Portland. I got a chance to meet him briefly when he was signing on the sales floor at the convention, and I got all tongue-tied because fame does that sort of thing to your interactions, and I just didn’t know what to say to him in a signing line other than ‘I love your book, man!’. What a dork! I saw him a week later at the San Diego Comic Convention, in a writer’s panel, and I felt similarly like a dork when I rose my hand to say ‘you’re a great writer!’ or some other silly nonsense. the truth was, I wanted to tell him ‘your stories tell me how much we are alike, and as much as you feel a need to tell the public who you are, I feel a need to tell you I am like you.’ But, really, why should he care? Anyhow, a couple years later now, I’m at a signing last night for his book “Just a Geek”, which I got and read last year when it came out, and it’s like a repeat of the entire experience, except now I’m not nervous and clammy, but I definitely don’t get out what I want to get out. There’s this intense pressure to communcate in that brief slice of time you’ve got in line, and I had been standing in this frickin’ line for so long, I already felt lame and pathetic. I had just stood in a line for an hour to get Wil’s signature on a book, which I really didn’t care about at all. I just wanted a moment of his time. I wanted to connect. Why should I really care? I don’t know. I mean, maybe it’s because he likes all the same things I do, and he’s involved in stuff I think is incredibly cool. I fumbled about a bit, told him I love his writing, that I felt he had honesty, integrity, wit and sensitivity, I jerked him off a bit, and finished with a ‘do you play Pirates of the Spanish Main?’ To which he says, yeah, I play that with Nolan all the time! (or what is Ryan?). I tell him I’ve got good wind rules, and I’ll send them to him, and we connect briefly. Julie of course, saves my cheese and does the great ‘you’re an awesome father’ line, which of course he loves. Who wouldn’t, after all? Anyhow, I leave happy that I connected briefly, but feeling a little hollow. It’s stupid, but I’d really like to be Wil’s friend. I sense a kindred spirit, and I find myself wishing he was never in Star Trek, that he wasn’t famous in any way, because he’d be totally cool to hang out with. But, no — I’m glad he’s had those experiences. They make him who he is, and they belong to him. It’s his success, and there are so few people who are cool like him in a position to collect on fame and success. I just am outside that circle for now. I told him I’m writing a Sci-fi comic, and when it’s done I’d like to send him a copy. Geez, am I pathetic or what? But you know, Wil really is a cool guy, and I’m glad he’s out there speaking geek-to-power for the rest of us.
I left the signing with Matt and went over to Cafe Du Nord for a concert of my friends’ Matt and Mike from Excite for their band, Oranger. We get there late, and they’re selling out of tickets. Matt and I get two of the last three tickets for the show. We get in there, and I weasel up to the front of the stage to say hi to my old friends from Excite. I wear my Excite hockey jersey for a laugh, figuring they’ll appreciate it. I see Mike setting up, and I grab him pretty quick to say hi. I give him a hug, but he seems really busy because of course he is, so I say I’ll catch up with him after the show. I don’t manage to get Matt’s attention at all. Matt (who came with me) and I settle in for what turns out to be a short set — they only play 8 songs. It’s part of some collection of bands, and they didn’t have a lot of time to play. They went on at 11pm and were off the stage at 11:45. We hang out at the front, trying to get Matt or Mike’s attention to say hi. I manage to bump into Matt, and he says ‘hey’ while carrying stuff off the stage. Later I grab him to ask if I can buy him a beer or something, he says ‘I’m okay for now’, and goes back in. We wait for a while longer, and it becomes obvious that they’re not coming back out, so I decide it’s time to clear out of there. Some other band is coming on next, but I didn’t come for the music. I came to say hi to some old friends from work, which evidently wasn’t going to happen. Too much time had passed, and they were no longer interested, or just too overwhelmed or busy to make it a priority to spend a moment with me.
So, I cleared out with Matt and we ended up at ‘Amber’, a bar around the corner from Du Nord, where our friend Marcus works. I figured, at least Marcus will treat us nice and give us some of that attention I’m looking for. Of course, It’s his night off so Matt and I have a drink and then I have had enough of the evening. I’m getting tired, I know I have to get up the next day, and I just have felt like I’ve had a couple of odd experiences I want to put behind me.
It’s then, that I look over at Matt and realize he’s been part of this adventure with me, and wow — here’s this other person with whom I connect very readily with and who isn’t too distracted to spend time with me, and who knows me for me and not some crazy ‘I’m your biggest fan’ guy in the signing line. We’re almost home, and I tell him to take a detour and we drive up a hill near my house that overlooks the valley, and I just spend a moment appreciating Matt. Here’s this really good friend that I have, and who I don’t spend nearly enough time with but it doesn’t matter, because he appreciates me and I appreciate him and we connect readily.
It’s in this moment that I realize that I don’t care about famous people at all because of their fame. It’s just part of that same bit about me that makes me make all sorts of friends, to try to keep too large a stable of folks around me, and why I get upset if I feel like some of my friends haven’t been giving me the love and affection that I desire. Whenever I see someone I feel kinship with in any way, I feel an instant impulse to try to connect. I guess that’s common, but I wonder how many people see that impulse for what it is. The biggest problem is, you only have so much time in your life and so much space, and you have to make choices of where you put your energies. I’ll probably never get to be friends with people like Wil not because he’s famous and I’m not — he’s already proven time and time again he doesn’t really care much about that shit — but because we’re both way to busy in our own lives to make room for another person, without extenuating circumstances. So, I give a nod in his direction, and I’ll send him the wind rules for Pirates (which were co-designed by Chuck, and I will give proper attribution), and I will just let go of my irrational desire to befriend him. If our paths cross again, then fantastic — I’ll reach out and have that single-serving connection. If circumstances put us in the same circle for some reason, great. I will be satisfied he’s out there doing his thing, as I am here doing mine. I’ve got plenty of people to hang out with, and really I don’t have time for many more.

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