Re: A Statement
It has been a little over 24 hours since I first read the statement from Alastair Stephens titled, "A Statement," followed by a statement titled, "Let's Dance," written by his ex-wife, Lani Diane Rich. In that time, I have gone back and forth on whether I should write about my feelings, email Lani directly, or just keep quiet about the whole thing. As you can tell by this blog post's existence, I went with the first choice.
I have a feeling that most people who will read this will be familiar with the situation as well as Alastair and Lani. For those who are not, you can read both of their statements via the links below. While this is in response to Alastair's statement specifically, it is heavily influenced by Lani's. Reading both is extremely important.
In order to comment on these statements properly and to explain the weight of this situation in context of my own life, I need to go back to when I first heard of these two individuals.
As a lover of podcasts, I am always on the lookout for new shows to listen to. In June of 2015, I found a Harry Potter podcast called Dear Mr. Potter, hosted by Alastair Stephens of StoryWonk. StoryWonk was a podcast network managed by Alastair and his now ex-wife Lani. The network is no longer producing shows, though many are still available to download and listen to. When I found Dear Mr. Potter, I quickly added a few of the beginning episodes to my iPod before going on a trip with some friends to South Carolina. It was on the long drive home that I first listened and I was immediately hooked. Alastair's commentary of the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were smart and unlike any other Potter commentary I had heard before. I immediately began devouring episodes. When I returned home, I soon found the StoryWonk library of content and began to download podcast episodes galore. StoryWonk quickly became a favorite podcast network of mine. Along with Dear Mr. Potter was In Want of a Wife (a Pride and Prejudice podcast), StoryWonk Sessions (a Pixar podcast), The Lightbulb, and more. StoryWonk Sessions and the Lightbulb introduced me to Lani, and I became quickly aware that Lani and Alastair were husband and wife.
Like I said, StoryWonk was almost immediately a favorite podcast network of mine. I became obsessed with their content. I listened to several of their podcasts at work every week and on long car rides. I recommended shows to friends. I started reading books and watching shows just so I could listen to StoryWonk commentary.
After recommending In Want of a Wife to a friend of mine, she came back to me saying that she loved it and felt as if she could listen to it over and over again, and had to take notes because of how thoughtful the podcast was. When a friend of mine became obsessed with Outlander, I recommended the StoryWonk show called, The Scot and the Sassenach, and she couldn't get enough of it! And another friend / penpal of mine wrote to me saying how much she loved Lani and her podcasts and books, prompting me to write back and tell her that I too listened to Lani's podcasts and would definitely be reading her books in the near future. I even recommended one of Alastair's writing podcasts, The Journeyman Writer, to a writing buddy of mine, though in truth I can't remember if he ever listened or not.
So for the sake of honesty, let me briefly point out the few things for the sake of clarity. First, while StoryWonk put out lots of content I loved, they also put out content I could care less about. Several episodes of the Lightbulb discussed topics that bored me to death, and I never found Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars worthy of hour long podcast episodes. I've tried to listen to Dusted, the Buffy podcast, and made it through about 10 episodes of the Scot and the Sassenach, but gave up on both as I found I couldn't hold an interest in either topic. I also found that I clung to Alastair's commentary far more than Lani's. After my friend told me about how much she enjoyed Lani's fiction, I bought her book titled The Fortune Quilt. While the book didn't read like the literature I craved and admired, I found the main character's journey and arc very relevant to my own life, and look back on the book fondly. Again, it isn't that I disliked Lani. I liked Lani very much and had a ton of respect for her, and still do. But Alastair podcasted about topics that I enjoyed a lot more.
Eventually, I decided to support the couple on Patreon.
To say that StoryWonk made an impact on my academic life and my life in general would be an understatement. Alastair and Lani's podcasts practically changed the way I viewed stories. Their commentary taught me new tools and vocabulary on how to talk about story. To this day, StoryWonk Sessions remains one of the most important podcasts about storytelling in my opinion. StoryWonk introduced me to some of my favorite video games, such as Firewatch, and thrust me into this new way of thinking about story that made me excited. Knowing that people like Lani and Alastair existed in the world made me feel a whole lot better.
And then I received an email from StoryWonk in March of 2017, explaining that Alastair and Lani were divorcing and StoryWonk would be no more. This email shocked me, but didn't surprise me. In my head I told myself this narrative that went something like this: "I'm sure podcasting and producing a podcast network as a couple can be exhausting on their relationship." I think this narrative came from another podcast I used to listen to, where a couple not only podcasted together but ran a magazine together. The work got in the way of their relationship and they got a divorce, forcing her to leave the show and he to go on sabbatical for a few months. On top of the StoryWonk announcement, another one of my favorite podcasts was going on a break when the two married hosts were getting a divorce. Somehow, in my mind, it all felt connected, though now I look back and realize how deeply different all of those podcaster's situations were.
I knew then, and still know now, that the situations, while public, were deeply personal and that I could never know the deep truth of the matters. All of these podcasters have lives that while connected to my own, are also deeply disconnected. There are so many intricacies that occur in daily life and I would never know the behind the scenes just as they would not know mine. And of course I was, and am, okay with that. After all, I have always been aware of the disconnect between public persona and personal life. Even those who choose to be open and honest about their life still are not deeply known to listeners and fans. Sure I had become a small part of the StoryWonk community in supporting them on Patreon, attending live episode recordings, and listening to podcasts, but I still did not know Alastair or Lani. I admired them but did not know them. So all I could feel at that point was sadness for them both, wonder at what actually went down, and hopeful for the future.
Shortly after the end of StoryWonk, it was announced that Alastair and Lani were not leaving the podcasting realm but starting their own separate podcast networks. Alastair started Point North Media and Lani started Chipperish Media. While I subscribed to both of their respective podcasts, I was much more interested in Point North. As mentioned, I had always been drawn more toward Alastair than Lani. Occasionally I would listen to her podcast called, How Story Works, but never felt hooked with her podcasts in the way I did with Alastair's content. This is due to what I stated earlier. Lani was more attached to discussing stories that I don't care about such as Buffy and Outlander. It wasn't that I disliked her. I very much loved Lani. But since I had no interest in what she was discussing, I, for all intensive purposes, moved on. I quickly became a Patreon supporter of Alastair's new content, and was happy with the new direction he was taking.
Because I was more affiliated with Alastair's work on StoryWonk, listening to him on Point North felt no different. He continued his Dear Mr. Potter series, and talked about several other things like American Gods by Neil Gaiman, the Lord of the Rings, and even did one shot episodes discussing a movie or TV show. While I am not a Lord of the Rings fan (read the first book and was bored out of my mind), I downloaded every episode of his Lord of the Rings podcast to listen to one day in hopes that I would actually enjoy the series about Middle Earth with his guidance. I bought American Gods on audiobook just to listen to his American Gods podcast, though he didn't win me over with that as I can not stand that book and stopped listening before reaching the halfway point.
Alastair also introduced me to other podcast networks such as Common Room Radio, a network I still listen to and love. He would hold online classes about storytelling and most recently held a class about Shakespeare, which I bought and avidly awaited. Dear Mr. Potter has been a staple in my podcast listening since 2015 and for a while earlier this year, I went through a phase of listening to nothing else just so I could catch up and attend a live episode recording and get in on the discussion. I have loved his commentary on the series, and have also thoroughly enjoyed his reading of the text as he creates different voices for each character. There have been several occasions when I have wished someone would hire him to read the next audiobook release of the books.
What made Alastair so great was his inclusion of other people's thoughts and opinions. He recorded episodes live and allowed people to comment on the subject material and he would read it on the show and interact with the chat. His commentary was astute and always got me thinking. I viewed his podcasts differently compared to other podcasts I listened to. Alastair, as far as I knew, was an expert at story. And why shouldn't I have thought that? I have been listening to him for over 3 years. His podcasts and observations have become some of the best tools that I have learned from, and have truly left a huge impact on me.
In truth, I greatly looked up to this man. He was smart and well read, and though I didn't always agree with him, I found that his demeanor and commentary made him more worthwhile than anyone else in the business. As a podcaster myself, I often looked to him for guidance. I have even reached out to him in hopes that he could record a podcast episode discussing what goes into having a podcast network, such as budget and equipment and hosting, etc. I have modeled my own website after Point North's. Since I was a patron of his on Patreon, I attended many a live stream for patrons only. The chat was always full of the same people, telling inside jokes and chatting along with Alastair. Sometimes I would join and everyone, including Alastair, was always very welcoming and open to talking to me even though I am more of a wallflower. I'm awkward on the internet, what can I say? I find it hard to be among community when I have never met the people in said community. Despite this, he knew me by name and it warmed my heart when he followed me on Instagram and would occasionally like my posts (and no, this story is not going where you may think it is going). Point North was a nice tight-knit community that I was happy to be a small part of. I always hoped that he would host a Point North get together where everyone could meet up in person somewhere for a weekend to talk stories and drink coffee and enjoy conversation with fellow nerds. As a content creator, I have always longed for his opinion on my own work and even planned on sending some of my work to him in the near future. And let me stress that I was not obsessed with Alastair, though it may come across that way, but very enamored by his drive and academia. As with StoryWonk, I didn't agree with everything he said and even got bored with him sometimes. But I found that I always wanted to stick with Alastair and Point North.
You may be wondering why I am being so complementary toward this man. I feel it is important that I do so, in hopes that you understand my disappointment from this point forward.
If you have been reading this post and have not yet read the statements from the beginning from Lani and Alastair, please do so before continuing as I won't be recapping either in great detail. At the end of July, Alastair posted a brief message on Twitter and via email saying that there would be schedule changes with Point North. Truth be told, I never kept up with his schedule very well. I was always behind or busy when he held his live shows. If I did make a live show, I was often bored and would leave prematurely. There are a ton of other podcasts I listen to so it has never been a thing where I eagerly await his next episode. When it arrives in my iTunes feed, I add it to my iPod to listen to some point in the near future. In fact, when Alastair posted about schedule changes, I was in the midst of listening to his most recent episode of Dear Mr. Potter discussing the 3rd and 4th chapters of my favorite Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix.
In this statement, Alastair said,
"As some of you are no doubt aware, this has been a difficult week for me."
Now as I mentioned, I have never been someone who has kept close tabs with the Point North schedule but I still found myself to be up to date with the goings on. That being said, I was not aware of what could be causing Alastair a difficult week. I was left feeling very confused and curious, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. My first thought was that he had a death in the family. I awaited his return and thought nothing more of the subject. Then, on the morning of August 2nd, I received an email from the Point North Patreon page. The subject line read, "Point North Media posted 'A Statement'."
I was off from work on August 2nd, and currently in the middle of eating my lunch while watching some YouTube videos when I saw the email. Being aware of the "difficult week," I immediately stopped eating and paused my video to read the statement. What I read caught me completely off guard.
The statement is not long. Alastair basically explains that after he and Lani divorced he was hit with many accusations, and also admits to having an "emotional affair" with another woman toward the end of their marriage. In Alastair fashion, he was very apologetic and well spoken. After a few more sentences, my eyes fell on the sentence,
"I am retiring from podcasting, effective immediately."
I read the rest, but it does not really matter to what I am writing. Again, I encourage you to read his statement via the link in the beginning of this post.
My first course of action was sending the email to my friend who also keeps up with Alastair's podcasts and supported him on Patreon for a brief time. The two of us agreed that this was deeply devastating, not just for us no longer getting to hear him anymore, but for him. Podcasting was a huge part of his life. You don't have to know the man to know this is a fact. The dedication and effort that had been put into his content was suddenly gone. I had always looked forward to him finishing the Harry Potter books on Dear Mr. Potter. But the sudden reality was that this wasn't going to happen.
To tell you the truth, I was deeply affected by this email. It forced me to reflect on what Alastair was to my life, for I have learned so much from his podcasts and his always jovial attitude. And it may sound silly but I felt a bit choked up at the realization that my weeks would no longer include him any longer. I always missed his live sessions but was sure to attend another. That was to be no more. I still had not finished the most recent Dear Mr. Potter episode, yet how could I finish it now? What was the point? He wouldn't be recording more anyway. It almost felt too difficult to listen, knowing that it was to be no more. And then there was the Shakespeare class I had paid for and still had three more sessions to listen to. How could I do that? Part of me felt as if I was more upset than I had a right to be, but I can't help how I feel.
When I saw the statement on Point North's twitter account, I tweeted a response…
I thought long and hard about how I wanted to wish him a proper send off. I didn't want it to be a shallow good-bye and I wanted him to know how deeply I would miss him. I think my tweet accomplished that.
A few hours later, twitter notified me that someone had responded to my tweet.
When I first read the response, I grew a bit angry and shook my head. Who was this salty troll throwing out nonsense? What gave them the right to respond to my tweet in this way? At first I ignored the tweet, it's remnants still etched on my brain. It had been a mere few hours since I first read Alastair's statement and I felt as if I had somehow been on an emotional rollercoaster. I still couldn't believe this new reality and although it felt silly to dwell on, my brain kept returning to the thought.
Because the tweet kept nagging me, I looked at it again and noticed the URL was to Lani's website….to a blog post titled, "Let's Dance." I clicked it immediately, knowing that it must be linked to why Alastair is leaving the podcasting world.
To recap Lani's statements would not do her justice, nor is there enough room for me to do so. Again, please read her post via the link at the beginning. If you read anything today, let it be what she has written. It is the most important piece you can read at this time.
What I experienced while reading her statement can only be described as my heart slowly falling into my stomach. The post is long and detailed, exploring her relationship with Alastair and the abuse and lies that occurred throughout. I experienced a brief moment of skepticism before coming to terms with the truth, and feeling tainted because of it.
Suddenly, I truly could no longer listen to Dear Mr. Potter. Before reading Lani's post, I could not listen because it would make me sad. Now I could not listen because I felt betrayed and angry. This man who I had admired and aspired to be like was a complete fabrication, and I was left feeling deeply disturbed by these revelations. Throughout Lani's piece, there were several points where I had to stop reading and do something else before continuing. I couldn't bear it all in one swoop.
We are living in the age of #metoo, the movement that believes women and holds men accountable for the dangerous ideas they seem to feel entitled to. While I don't believe Alastair's actions are directly related to toxic masculinity based on Lani's statement, I also know that it is extremely important to believe her.
In Alastair's statement he writes,
"The truth of our marriage was, as the truth always is, more complicated and human than that," (that being Lani's statements).
When I first read this sentence, before knowing of Lani's post, I will admit that I thought it was BS. Yes, truth is nuanced and messy, but in many ways this nuance leads to clear cut actions. What happened and what didn't happen may be nuanced, but it is also definitive. For example, say I went up to my boss and slapped her after she humiliated me in front of my co-workers one time too many. Sure it is nuanced. Perhaps she feels a need to overpower me because in her own life she lacks power. Perhaps I would be insecure about what people think of me. Perhaps all the days she told me off for needless things were days she was struggling with family drama and subconsciously took it out on me. But that doesn't change the fact that I just slapped my boss and that she abused her power.
When I was 23, I began working at a company that was deeply rooted in sexism and lack of leadership. The things I experienced were wrong, disturbing, and unjust. I have told people my story and they don't always believe me. They don't believe that the things that I experienced could be real. No one ever does until it happens to them. And this experience has led me to become deeply rooted in believing the stories of other women.
I believe Lani.
I believe Lani because of the evidence she presents. I believe Lani because Alastair writes in vague language and offers no argument because he has none.
I am writing this post for a number of reasons...to vent, to stand with Lani, and to tell a story. The news is still fresh in my mind and I know it will be days, or weeks, before I come to terms with it in full. This is nothing compared to the amount of time Lani will have to dedicate to healing. I write this post because I want to tell my story of a man who I found genuine and smart and admirable, who I now know is deeply deceptive and disturbing. I don't speak for Lani, only for myself. Like Lani, I hope Alastair gets help. That is the best I can hope for him at this time.
Three years of my life were spent learning from Alastair and sticking with his content. Those three years were not real and covering up deep pain. My heart goes out to Lani and for what she has had to go through. I have since deleted all Alastair's podcasts and will not be finishing the Shakespeare class that I regrettably paid for. In no way is my experience on par with Lani's. That being said, there is something deeply personal about the people you listen to via podcasts. They become apart of your routine and life. Alastair was a huge part of mine, and this new reality is sad but is helping me rethink things about my own ideas and my future.
I knew Alastair the podcaster. But I never knew him personally as Lani did. I can't hold on to the idea of a person just to make myself feel better, when someone else experienced deep pain because of them. And I know that at both times Alastair can be a brilliant podcaster and also the things Lani has accused him of being. But because of this revelation, I can't in good conscience continue having him in my life any longer. It is too painful.