William: Hi everybody, and welcome to Who Am I Podcast. This is William from Who Am I Podcast, together with Steven, discussing today our motivations for putting together this podcast, for discussing questions around personal identity, and why we chose this medium, and why it is important to us to have this creative output for you. So enjoy our discussion.
Steven: Why we think that having a chat together is worth doing, actually recording and sharing? And that's again because we both like to broaden our perspectives on different subjects, and this is a good platform for doing that.
William: Yeah, I noticed that, well when I had the idea for the podcast I thought who could I do this with, and you're the first and only name that came to my mind. I have had good chats with other people, obviously, but not as consistently. And since we've made an effort to keep in touch since we left Scotland five or four years ago, we have managed to keep in touch every few months at least.
Steven: Well that's pretty impressive when you think about it actually.
William: The meat of our chats has not become less. I feel pretty well understood when I share my thoughts with you.
William: That's valuable I don't want to leave that.
Steven: Again there's no pressure, no criticism, no judgment when we just chat. Because often when people have discussions it suddenly becomes "right and wrong" or "my views are more important"-type discussion.
William: I especially don't like the phrase "I disagree", because that immediately separates us. When I say that "oh I don't agree" it's like your opinion doesn't matter.
Steven: That is spot on actually. That is what was going for my mind over the last few days about what I wanted to talk about, the fact that people seem to think they can't absorb someone's opinion on something. They feel very strongly that they have to reject it because it conflicts with their own. And that's not how things in my opinion work. Because the more opinions you absorb, again, the more you'll be able to able to understand others. You don't have to believe them. You don't have to agree with them. But you can absorb them and adopt them into your own psyche or soul or whatever you want to call it, so that you understand it their point of view in a way that is, again, loving and not just a dismissal.
William: I think most people are capable of that.
William: I'm sometimes offended when I hear other people's opinions, and I might need to retreat. But when I feel I'm in a safe place and I can no longer be attacked or put in an uncomfortable conflict situation, then I can process it and not feel threatened that moment. Then I can be more rational about it, which is not always possible in the moment. And that I'm confronted with something, you know, especially when it's a heated discussion which I don't like in general.
Steven: Again there's no need for a heated discussion. It just seems to be something that happens, that someone suddenly gets defensive about a topic. And we forget that we can just pause and go "okay let's stop, it's becoming heated. Let's come back to this. We don't want it to be heated." It's just unnatural, maybe it's our natural defense mechanism kicking in. And that people don't necessarily have that wall in their brains, haven't learned to… Again it takes practice. You know I often got into many a heated discussion in the past because life is an ongoing process, and not being able to go "hang on a minute, take a step back" because I think that's very important in discussions. Just pause, like "okay".
William: Yeah that's what real discussions should be like. It's sad to see in the media, say with political discussions. The channels, the platform's just love controversy and fighting.
Steven: And it's all so quick, it's all so fast. You've got to answer things in two seconds. As I was watching the Joe Rogan show / podcast they had Bernie Sanders on.
William: I saw that.
Steven: So you saw that as well. It was an amazing discussion. And he was discussing, he was talking about, how you have these debates that are just too fast.
William: Yeah they call it a soundbite.
Steven: You don't get time to actually discuss in a nice way your policies.
William: The nuances. There's no room for nuances. And Bernie only had one hour time for Joe Rogan, only. Joe can talk to people for three hours like Jordan Peterson. He loves talking to him. I think he's had him on twice. That's the the number one podcast, I heard.
Steven: Is it? Good. Again, he brings in lots of different perspectives. He doesn't judge, he doesn't condone in that sense. He just hangs out with people.
William: He has an opinion on things: the things he's passionate about. But he can just be diplomatic and really interested in a loving way, like you said. He's respectful, he gets people on all kinds of parts of the spectrum and… what were you going to say?
Steven: Yeah he can listen. He just sits there and every so often he just throws in his little two cents' worth. He's there to see what his guests have to say. And the listeners, he knows the listeners are there for that as well.
William: Someone is not, people are not interested in your opinion until they feel like you're interested in theirs and they feel understood and listened to. It's something I read. I can't really say that from experience a lot. I just try, I try to be aware of other people's opinions and just yeah, it's not easy to give them your attention and understanding. It certainly makes for better relationships.
Steven: Yes. Listening is a difficult skill. I am rubbish at it. I am really bad. I woffle. I am quite happy to, again, discuss this as a topic topic. I'll ask a question or something, and that person will have like 30 seconds, and then I'll be like "oh they said something really interesting" and I'll start going off on one again. And I just like need to learn just to be quiet.
William: Is it an attention thing or do you just love the sound of your own voice?
Steven: Probably. I'm just excited to just share what's going on. Somebody else will say something and I'll just be like "oh!". Something will trigger in my brain that I think is interesting and therefore want to share because I'm worried if I don't say it now it'll be gone. And then I will remember it or something like that. That's probably what's going on. Again, it's subconscious in a way.
William: There are signals like when you take a breath because you want to say something. They will see that, at least most people will be aware of tha. But if they still talk then I think "I guess they believe what they have to say is more important". I think the best conversations are when you're willing to sacrifice what you want to say, and then just adapt to what the other person says. It's not always easy.
Steven: It's not. It's about asking questions as well, isn't it. It's being able to know what questions to ask people when just having discussions. But things like, you know, "what's your opinion?", "how do you feel about this?". Those kind of things. I also think a lot of my woffleness, if that's even a word, comes from spending a lot of time with quiet people.
William: You're a waffle maker.
Steven: Yeah, I'm a waffle maker, it's true. I like it. My brain is a waffle maker.
William: So you have to spend time with who?
Steven: With lots of quiet people, people that tend to be not as outgoing as maybe the popular group of people, like the masses. And therefore, sometimes in the past, I felt the need to be the one who chats even though I'm quite happy to sit back and, not in a social environment, if everyone was just not talking and no one's saying anything, that feels very uncomfortable. It feels like something's wrong, so it's not right, where actually it's just enjoying each other's presence. But there usually has to be something, you're doing something. If you're all together, you know, you're watching a film or on the computer or you're playing board games, you know. You don't have to necessarily talk to each other in that. But if you're just sitting there having drinks or whatever, then it can be quite difficult to know what to say and how to maintain conversation.
William: Sometimes it's just a mental pause, just reflecting on what was said.
Steven: I always love when someone comes in and it's like they're the person that can sort of like navigate the conversation, the dynamic in the group. I can just sit back, and I don't have to, but I can sort of just bounce off that person.
William: Yeah, it can be nice. It can also be that they take over too much control and then the whole dynamic gets ruined, where everyone had a good share in the conversation. When someone has a personality that's too big for the rest of the group.
Steven: I interrupted, carry on. Sorry. Well, see, I'm doing exactly what I'm talking about.
William: So shall we move on to another topic?
Steven: Well, the link in my brain was: an example of that dominating conversation in a group setting is Dungeons & Dragons of all things. So that's really popular at the moment. It's made an absolutely comeback in the last four or five years.
William: The pen and paper version in person?
Steven: In person, online, again, broadcasting it, twitch streaming it, YouTube streaming it. If you go onto youtube and type in D&D there are hundreds of shows because it's very entertaining. The social dynamic of that is that you have one person guiding the story scenario then you have four people plus or maybe three, depending on the dynamic, and in social situation there's one person that dominates the whole thing. It can be a completely different different game to where if it's even spread. You have the other dynamic the dungeon master or games master: it's their job to actually negotiate that, to make sure that one person isn't dominating things. So it brings in a whole new social structure. And I know people falling out in dungeons and dragons and got upset because one person was trying to control the situation to make sure everyone, like the DM is trying to make sure everyone's having the same amount of fun, but the big personality… And they're enjoying it, you know, they're allowed to enjoy it. They're allowed to have fun, be happy and whatever else. But it's those social clues of being aware. But other people can get involved.
William: How often do you play? Do you meet once a week with your friends?
Steven: I play a little bit at the moment with my brother Ben. But I've just finished up a two-year campaign. Yeah, I just finished a two-year campaign, weirdly with somewhere between 15 and 20 people.
William: What? Online?
Steven: Well, so originally there's about 13 of us in our games group who wants to play dungeons and dragons. And I was like "yeah, let's see what happens". I hadn't DM'd before. I hadn't done it. But I thought "you know what, I always go for the extremes, so I'll try it". And it works reasonably well, but was a difficult dynamic because, again, people weren't getting enough time. I was constantly jumping to different people a lot. And then I split it off into more people jumped in, more people came along. Then I split it off into three groups of five or six, and then a group of one because the story had one sort of "bad person" which was my brother as his character. And then the other groups were on the quest to try and stop him all in the same sort of timeline but different countries. So that was a social dynamic, nightmare, but lots of fun. In hindsight I'll never do it again.
William: And that took two years, to go through the whole story and the whole adventure?
Steven: Yeah, I mean some adventures never stop. So D&D is a weird one where you can have the campaign last a year. They can last ten years depending on the group of people, depending on the story. Most pre-made things from Wizards of the coast who make D&D, I think, a year maybe. If you do it every eight week or two. It might last, the curse of Stroud, that's quite a long one. I think.
William: So does that mean the Dungeon Master has to keep building the world?
Steven: Yes, if it's their own world, yes. If it's the pre-made one they have a general sense of how the world is. And they kind of just use the resources that you've got given, you've been given for that. But yeah, going back to the point: the social dynamic of that is fascinating; trying to listen, again, listen to people, let them have their time.
William: Nice. I've been studying a bit about gamification, and how central games are to learning, and how hopefully the education system, you know schools for children, will adapt. And now it is that being told to shut up, sit down and listen is not productive. There's nothing wrong with you if you can't sit still and listen for hours to something that is not exciting for you. How you can actually use games, simple games, complex games, board games, video games to convey all the things you need in traditional schooling. So I'm excited about becoming aware of that and I wonder what things you learn, because games aren't interesting unless you learn. I think you were saying that the social dynamics are interesting, but what else have you learned just from games like D&D?
Steven: There's a lot of studies going on. I'm assuming studies and discussion going on about how this helps especially in D&D and role-playing games, because it gives you a way to, again, learn social situations that are technically fictional and there's no consequence really to it. So you can help develop your social skills in that manner. A lot of teenagers right now are really getting onto it, especially in America. D&D clubs, groups like stranger things has really blown that up as well because the TV show stranger things is basically based on D&D stuff and has really blown up that ability to learn through a story. You know, if you're acting a story not just reading a story, you know, people love to see a theater or read it or see it on TV or the cinema; this gives you a very immersive experience where you can learn anything like you can learn the social skill, you can learn how you feel about good and evil, or how you would feel in a bar brawl. It can get really emotional because you're attached to your character, you're playing a character. And if your couch gets injured or your party members get injured you go through emotional learning through those experiences. And it is just brilliant.
William: It's like a flight simulator, right? There's no risk of, say, physical harm. But you get the real experience.
Steven: Yeah, and again, if the DM is doing it right and you're doing it right as a group there's no risk for social or psychological or emotional damage because you're with friends, you're in a comfortable situation. And there should be no judgement and just having fun. You can be as silly as you want. You can just let loose. You don't have to hide. You can look for aspects of your own personality through another character if you want to, without realizing. Other people do because they're not out and about "I'm gonna feel judged". They'll just say, you know, "it's the character", but actually they might be actually just exploring part of themselves. And then D&D also has the element where it's just fun and you can just kill everything and that tends to be what happens to start off with, where you get a party come in and you put a scenario in front of them and instead of negotiating or being diplomatic it's just, because it's a fictional world, "we draw our bows and our swords and we go and kill."
William: In D&D you say a lot what you do, right? Steven: Yes.
William: But when you're with the group of friends in person or I guess you say "I do this", which is not normal speech.
William: That's interesting.
Steven: You have the third person as well you can say the person's name, your character's name. You say "Sam does that", "Sam is upset", "Sam cries", "Sam whatever" if that's a character's name.
William: You could turn that into a book if you record what everyone says, especially when it's in the third person.
Steven: Again, the podcasts; you just follow someone's game. If you type it into YouTube, if you type it into twitch… I got into the audio stuff about five or six years ago, maybe a bit more, and there's so many, just fun games, and you're just listening to them play. They just listen to them play. The main one that I listen to is acquisitions incorporated, they're the Wizards of the coast guys that make it, their own official D&D team, I guess. They have other ones as well but this one started off as just a little podcast. Two of the players I don't think had even played D&D before. It's been going for ten years. And then they got to the point after a few years, where they did it at conventions on stage in front of people.
William: In costume?
Steven: Yes, sometimes in costume. Wil Wheaton was involved in a few of them. And yeah, it's just it's so much fun and entertaining, and, again, you learn like you do for any fictional medium, really. The whole catharsis thing.
William: I don't like it when when people say "Well, what does that have to do with the real world? That doesn't prepare you for anything really important." But, I mean, reality is what you make of it, first of all. And a game or a movie for that matter, no matter how fictional it is, it's only interesting as long as it has some relation with the real world. If it were totally disconnected and totally abstract it would not be interesting, you wouldn't know what's going on and how is this a story. So there's always some parallel, and some stories are more distant from the world we know than others; but that's just his work.
Steven: Yeah, that's a perfect segue that will probably be part of every podcast: the fact that I'll mention Dune at least once in everything, which is that the segue is that that's why a lot of people struggle with Dune, because it's so different and so outside of what we understand, or think we understand, in its environment in its universe. But once you start scratching the surface you start to see the commonalities of the human experience. That's why a lot of people read the first few chapters and just put it down because it's like "What the hell?" There's so many different words used and actions.
William: It's not just names, it's actually vocabulary.
Steven: The political structure, the vocabulary, yeah. And again it loops back into the fact that most stories, they do have a, the good ones, the great ones, have the common human experiences within them.
William: Even though people have special abilities it's not too foreign because, well, we would all like to have some special abilities. But you can still use some of your imagination to see what it's like to read people's thoughts or fly or whatever.
Steven: Again, it's the emotional experience, isn't it.
William: Yeah, you call it catharsis, right? I read once in some, maybe on your homepage, where you say that catharsis is one of the reasons you like fantasy media in general. And that's similar to the gaming experience we were just talking about: it's virtual but it's also real.
Steven: That loops back to what we said at the start, to do with (oh man I just went a memory just lost it)… That's really annoying. I had it. I had a really good…
William: Okay, another question. Maybe you'll get back to it. As an author of fantasy, do you have a certain goal for your readers?
William: Is there something rewarding for you if they manage to do something interesting by reading your books?
Steven: I never really have the readers in mind. It sounds very selfish. But it's my experience: writing the story has always just been "what would I like to read?" If ideas come into my brain I just write them in a way that if someone else had written the story I would pick it up and just be absorbed into it. And I just hope that, you know, other people enjoy them too kind of thing. That's always kind of been my… Weirdly, in the past I've been a very overthinking human being. And I still am in many ways. But when it comes to stuff like that I just do it. I just write it out and take the concepts and roll with them. It sounds really pretentious and annoying; but the story tends to kind of just write itself. I've been very fortunate with that where they just flow. William: Stream of consciousness.
Steven: Yes. There's a lot of editing involved. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of corrections need to be made afterwards. There's a lot of that, but they solved the initial outline. I don't necessarily think about who's going to read this or how they're going to respond. And again, maybe I should. Maybe I should be more conscious of that. There's been stuff that's happened with certain stories.
William: I mean, don't let it ruin your recipe. You know, if something's working for you.
Steven: It feels like it is. It feels like it is. It's a slow industry, so current prices are just waiting for a revamp of all my work pretty much. So, until that happens I'm pretty much just working on projects and not really doing anything in terms of promoting and marketing. But the reading experience and the catharsis, it tends to… I think I try to write them… When I write, I think a way that people can interpret it however they want. So it's ambiguous and open enough that a lot of what goes on, you can pick and choose how you respond to it, for your own perspective. Often a story it could be like "Okay, this is how it is. This is what's going to happen. This is what's good. This is what's bad. blah blah". I think a lot of what I write I think will bite, will polarize people. People will read it and be like "Okay. That's cool, blah blah, because they've seen it as that way". Or other people would be really offended or be like "This is rubbish because that's what they've projected onto it", that they've chosen to see that side of the story rather than the whole.
William: You write offensive things?
Steven: Not offensive in that like the interpretation… So we talked about the Frankenstein story earlier. In the Daria V Frankenstein I deal with equality and gender roles and those kind of topics. And again, I'll bit get it now because it's not time for that discussion. Maybe in the future. But it caused a bit of difficulty between the editors and myself, the publisher, to try and get it to where it needed to be.
William: Did you have to push for it, to happen the way you wanted?
Steven: Yeah, and I also had to be humble enough to accept that I was wrong at various points and make sure that I was keeping my mind open, again, to how readers will respond to things; just because I think that the interpretation should be one way, or I see an interpretation that I hope other people will see. This isn't gonna necessarily mean they do see it. So I have to actually learn to be a bit more specific in the plot and think about who's this after being written for and who's going to read this and actually you think about that more, because in the past, as I say, I haven't. So actually consciously thinking about it will make sure there are no obvious contradictions. Because if you're trying to do a theme, and then you end up without realizing it contradicting it through characters or through the experiences, then it can look very bad as a writer and you can look like an idiot.
William: And people love to point that out.
Steven: Yes, they do.
William: Maybe you could do something on social media to get more feedback on what your readers think about your stories. I mean, if you want to go that way. Again, don't do anything to to kill the thing that works.
Steven: As I say, this is part of a discussion, another sort of half an hour worth of waffling on my part just to, I guess, discuss that story and what happened in that story and how in terms of how it led to me, how many discussions with the editors about the content, and if you're trying to cover a certain theme. So I think that, yeah, for another time, definitely. How about you? What are your mediums for social creative outputs? You do coding and stuff.
William: Yeah. Well I haven't been creative in a while. But when I do have some leftover energy I like some programming. I, let's see, about a year ago I was trying to gather all the exercises I did as a student of computer science and it was difficult to find all the code left over in Dropbox folders, emails. And some of the software had moved on, so that it was no longer compatible. But then I thought "No. I it's fine for that to be in the past." I recovered some of it, and that was interesting. It made me a bit nostalgic for the days of studying. I wish I could be a student my whole life. So no, up till now I haven't felt the need to produce much. But now I'm starting a new phase. This is a big step for me, to do a podcast. So far I've just been soaking up everything. Some people like to call me a sponge because I just love to learn all kinds of things. And so that's been reading, and also the last few years YouTube. Since I realized "Wow, there's a lot more information out there than what television offers you".
Steven: Oh, yeah.
William: Diverse and more tailored towards what I think personally is valuable. So three years ago I developed an interest in politics, and that was never there before. So now, I guess you could say, my output is, or I have a need now to talk to people about politics. There's not a lot of opportunity for that, I mean, with people who are open even though they have a different perspectives than I do. Bt whenever I can, I mention it and and see what happens, what response I get. For example on Friday I asked my colleagues "Did any of you do anything or think about anything because it was September 11th two days ago?", and they said "Not really, just that it was on the news a bit." And I said "Yeah, well, on the alternative news channels that I watched there was quite a lot about it, but not in the sense of let's have a moment of silence, but let's go through all the evidence again that shows that the attacks in in Manhattan were not just a few people from a cave in in the Middle East but…"
Steven: There's a lot of discussion around that.
William: Yeah, and should never stop because it's still buried and suppressed; and not enough people know the truth about what actually happened. Just how many institutions and governments were involved in it. Anyway…
Steven: Well a good idea would be to next discussion politics and then a bit of my book stuff, in terms of themes, and how they relate to, I guess, how as a creator you write, you create things for yourself and for your audience. But we can discuss some political stuff together. We can discuss, you can if you want to.
William: Sure. Yeah. I described the topic, the main topic of the whole podcast on the homepage as "we're discussing questions around personal identity", because that that's what the question "Who am I?" is about. Not like "Who the heck am I?!", but rather, of all the things that people tell themselves about their identity, what applies to me? How do I feel about what I am, who I am, in relation to the world, other people, the environment.
Steven: The Greeks had it good, with all their philosophy. It was above the temple at Delphi in, I don't know, 600 BC or whatever, where the phrase "Know thyself" comes from. This constant desire to know thyself, to know who we are. Who am I? The other phrase was "Everything in moderation". Something along those lines.
William: Also by the Greeks, you mean?
Steven: Yeah. So it was at the temple of Delphi. And it was written above it: those two phrases "Know thyself". And the translation, I think, is something on the lines of "Everything in moderation" or "Nothing in excess". That sort of phrase. The "Know thyself" is one of my favorite things ever. Because all we do as humans, we just constantly try to understand who we are.
William: That's right, in many different ways: You're the artist. I guess you express, right? Would you say you express along your quest for knowledge about yourself? Yeah, I like that your goal is not to entertain people or to make money or to tell people what they should be. It's just a thing you do for you. And if it can help you support yourself financially, then that's great.
Steven: That'll be nice. Again, it's exploring. Like the podcast, the plan of the podcast is to explore just many different topics. That's what I do with my writing. One set of books is more philosophical and draws on religion in this fantasy setting. And then one set is like steampunk mixed with again the "Who am I" and the equality concept and the different perspectives around equality. And another one was just solely, I think just gonna end up, being all fantasy and not actually thinking too much about concepts, and just literally just be a crazy adventure story. So again, it's made different ways of like a podcast or like a story. All are. All are. It's the same, really. I guess a shoebox. But that's a discussion for another time.
William: I'm not so much the artist, but pieces of media that have influenced me a lot, and not made me what I am, but have resonated with me… I've also had to deal with the question "Who am I?". And that's the Matrix movies.
William: Especially the first one. I remember how that really got to me. And science fiction in general. That's my favorite genre, because it shows that there is value in in thinking about questions that we don't ask ourselves every day. When we go shopping or working we just live, we just survive. But I think for life to be more valuable, you should explore more, deeper. And that's that's not always easy when there's no time or energy left for it. But in movies, since they're entertaining and a good source of education as well…
Steven: It has to be fun, like you talked about earlier, where it's the play thing and we learn through playing games and stuff. It has to… People, you know, switch off or get bored if a discussion is too in depth or too detailed. But if you can weave that into fun things for them, again, everyone has their own kind of fun. Because my fun sometimes IS having a massive theological discussion that lasts hours. And then other times I just want to play a board game or D&D which can explore something else or whatever. I don't know what's gonna be explored. It is always trying to be conscious of everyone else's different fun, I guess. And meaning of life, that kind of concept. Because some people do just want to drift through life. They don't actually want to explore other things. And who are we to tell them they have to? But I think there a lot of people out there who want to. That's a key thing as well, is that they want to discuss these things but, again, it's not always… They can't find the right people to discuss them with.
William: Right. Yeah. We're very isolated, and we don't realize how much we have in common. And we're not alone at all. But it takes some risk to speak to someone and just open up about things that can be very private, can be hurtful to share. But it could be very rewarding if it works out, so.
Steven: The honesty behind it, it's hard. The trust, trust and honesty. That's what we have. I think that's pretty much what we have. We have a trust and an honesty, where we can just discuss things, life and fun things, and things that we enjoy.