Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Laziness as a Motivation Tool

There’s something so refreshing about admitting that, in this moment, I just don’t care about my work.

As I think many people do, I can get into a mindset of constantly forcing myself to work, and never giving myself a moment of “free time.”  If I carefully look at the reason I’m doing that, it’s usually because I’m afraid that, if I stopped working for a moment, I’d somehow never be able to start again.  Instead, I would revert to my “true nature” of being lazy, and my lollygagging would continue until the end of my days.

Often, if I honestly ask myself why I’m compulsively working, I also notice that I’m worried about other people’s opinions.  After all, I don’t want to be seen as shiftless, selfish or apathetic, and in our culture it often seems like constant activity is valued for its own sake.

But Aren’t We Supposed To Just “Shut Up And Do It”?

The ability to force myself to work even when I don’t feel like it, on the surface, may look like a good thing.  I mean, isn’t that what all the “productivity” advice out there tells us — just shut off the internet, grit your teeth and slog your way through what you’re trying to accomplish?  Isn’t life all about constantly battling our laziness?

Unfortunately, when I buy into this mentality of pushing myself to work, I usually don’t end up producing much that’s worthwhile.  Instead, I normally find myself churning out mediocre work that I probably won’t end up using, or constantly bouncing around between ideas, unsatisfied with everything I come up with.

Listening To Our Laziness

What I’ve found is that I can restore my focus and energy by simply admitting to myself that I don’t feel like working, if that’s the truth in the moment.  At times, the truth is even “uglier” than that — sometimes, I can’t even bring myself to care about the work I’m doing or the people I plan to serve with it.  If that’s the case, I simply admit it too.

When I acknowledge what’s true for me right now in my relationship with my work, it’s as if muscles I didn’t know I had suddenly relax.  Often, the sense of relief I experience is so palpable that I start laughing.  And then, a moment later, my vitality and sense of purpose come back, and pretty soon I’m able to get back to work again without so much struggle and frustration.

Why does this happen?  My sense is that we diminish our vitality whenever we reject what we’re actually thinking and feeling.  If some part of me feels frustrated and unmotivated, and I basically try to beat that part into submission or pretend it doesn’t exist, the war I’m fighting against myself drains my energy.  It’s much easier if I make peace with the part that doesn’t want to work right now, and let it know I’m willing to hear it out.

So if you ever hear me say “I hate writing” or something along those lines, rest assured, it’s just because I’m motivating myself.

Is Privacy Overrated?

(Note:  when I say “privacy” here, I’m not talking about the freedom from government monitoring of our communications — I’m talking about the idea that we shouldn’t tell others about certain aspects of our lives because they’re “private.”)

I have mixed feelings about the idea of “keeping things private.”  When I used to tell people I wouldn’t reveal something about myself because it was “private,” I’d be basically saying that, because I can’t handle the discomfort of people finding out the truth, I’m going to hide behind a fictitious “rule” that it’s “wrong” for people to know that information.  I don’t do that so much anymore.

In the same vein, when my friends post something about themselves on Facebook or some other social media platform and tell me not to share it, I comply, but I often find myself wondering what the big deal is.  Is there really some fact about you that’s so terrible that, if the world found out about it, no one would want to be with you, and you’d find yourself completely alone?  Or is that just an irrational fear?

What If There Were No Secrets?

Sometimes I wonder whether, if we lived in a world where our “darkest secrets” were plain for everyone to see, we’d feel more connected to and compassionate toward each other.  If you could always see the truth about me, and I was forced to drop the absurd façade of perfection and “professionalism” I hold up at times, maybe you’d feel a deeper sense of shared humanity with me, rather than feeling contempt, distrust or envy toward me.

On the other hand, I understand that we live in a world where people have been trained, from birth, to loathe parts of themselves, and to loathe the same qualities in other people.  If I’ve been conditioned to see the fearful part of myself as disgusting, and you reveal to me that you’re afraid, I’ll probably feel disgust for you, not compassion.  If you learned as a kid that “people who play music are flaky,” you’re going to see me as a Grade-A Kellogg’s Cornflake.  And so on.

So, I suppose, it’s not as if keeping aspects of our lives “secret” or “private” is totally useless.  By doing that, we avoid the risk that others, when we reveal some part of ourselves, will hate what they see — just as they’ve been taught to hate the same part of themselves.

And, of course, there probably are some employers out there who would prefer that their employees project a certain image to the world, both on the job and off.  An employer like that may be upset with a worker who reveals some part of himself or herself to the world that the employer is uncomfortable with.  (My approach to dealing with that kind of company would be simply not to work for it, although I understand that some people might not see that option as realistic.)

Privacy and “Finding Your Tribe”

A key question, I think, is how seriously we choose to take the threat that other people will see aspects of who we are as disgusting or otherwise bad, and abandon or hurt us.

Maybe there are people who would decide, if we opened up about ourselves, that the discomfort they feel in the presence of our truth is too much for them to bear.  But perhaps those people just aren’t meant to be part of our “tribe,” and by concealing who we are from them in order to keep them around, we’re actually doing both ourselves and them a disservice.

So, I’m not 100% sold on the concept of “keeping things private,” although I can sympathize with people who worry that revealing “too much information” will threaten their survival.

What do you think about the whole idea of keeping parts of ourselves “private”?  Do you see any downside to it?

On Sincerity and Survival

For the last few months, I’ve been holding back from writing on this blog, and one reason has been a fear that people who would otherwise pay me money would read what I’ve written and decide not to do so.  But today, I decided I’m going to keep writing anyway.

Okay, what I just said could probably use a little context.

Recently, I’ve been doing legal work to pay some bills (although I’ve ended up doing a lot more than necessary to survive).  One assumption I’ve been making is that people won’t want to work with someone who talks about himself in a public forum like a blog.  Although I’m skilled at what I do, I thought, potential clients will just find something vaguely distasteful about someone who shares deeply about his experience of life.

How Honest Can You Be And Still Pay The Bills?

In other words, the assumption I’ve been operating on is that being who I am will kill me.  If I honestly tell the world about myself, no one will pay me and I won’t survive.  The only way to stay alive is to hide the truth.

But after spending some time pondering this way of thinking, I’ve come to a stark, inescapable conclusion:  if this is really a world where being who I am will kill me, I don’t want to exist in it.  I’d rather “risk my life” by telling people what’s going on for me than spend my life walled off from the rest of humanity.

I Just Might Survive Being Myself

Thankfully, I don’t think I’m so radically unique or strange that the world can’t tolerate who I truly am.  In fact, what I’ve found is that, the more I’ve been willing to share my heartfelt experience with the world, in my writings and elsewhere, the more others find themselves relaxing around me.

And that’s a wonderful thing, because, I’ve decided, my purpose in life is to help people relax — to experience a deep-seated, physical feeling of release.  When people interact with me or read my writings, I want the tension in their bodies to melt away, and the rigid beliefs they may have held about the world softening.

Not only that — I want to help myself relax too, and in my experience, the best way to do that is to tell the truth, especially if it’s something that feels risky to say.

I’ve got a lot more writing, and hopefully a lot more opportunities to help people relax, coming up soon.  Oh, and more Steve’s Quest.

For Your Listening Pleasure

I’m pleased to announce that five songs from the Steve’s Quest soundtrack have been fully recorded and mixed, and are now available for listening and download here.

I decided to put these out there for your (hopefully) listening pleasure, because the visual side of our production is taking a bit longer than I originally expected, and I wanted to serve up an appetizer to anyone craving fresh, nutritious Steve’s Quest content before the main course eventually arrives.

I hope you enjoy the songs, and I’m looking forward to your feedback!

(Note:  You can listen to the songs for free on the Bandcamp site — the .99 charge per song is only for downloading.)

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How I Got Less Crusty With Age

I used to assume I’d become more “realistic” and conservative in my thinking as I aged, but actually the opposite has happened.

Ten years ago, when I was 26, I was focused on “establishing myself” as a “high-powered professional,” and acquiring the relationships and possessions that fit with that “role.”  I lived as if it was urgent for me to achieve these goals, because, my thinking went, I “wasn’t getting any younger.”

Today, none of those things is important to me.  What’s important today is getting my creative work into the world.  The only reason I ever do anything else for money is to support my artistic habit.  The only thing I have in common with my old mentality is somewhat of a sense of urgency.

Rule #1:  Try “Flaky” Stuff for Its Own Sake

How did I manage to get less stodgy over time?  I think it’s because, at around the age of 29, I started slowly letting myself experiment and try new things that I would have scoffed at as “flaky” or “irresponsible” three years before.

One of these was buying a keyboard (a piano one, not a computer one).  The fact that this seemed adventurous to me probably gives you an idea of my mindset at the time.  More radically, I explored what now seems to me like a dizzying array of personal growth practices, including yoga, meditation, holotropic breathwork, men’s groups, ecstatic dance, etc., etc.

The more I let myself explore, the more I realized how much choice I had around the way I could live my life, and the more I understood that I could handle taking risks.  Once I had a lot of “trying stuff for the sake of trying stuff” under my belt, my priorities started to shift.

Doing Whatever I Want Is Hard Work

At this point, the best description of my goal in life would be something like this:  “do what I want, as much of the time as possible.”  It looks like a simple plan on the surface, but sometimes it’s actually a lot harder to pursue this mission than it is to fall into familiar patterns of trying to look “respectable” and “upstanding.”

Occasionally, when I’m talking to someone, I find the urge coming up to drop a casual reference to the achievements I racked up back when I was intent on becoming a “superlawyer.”  But usually, these days, I’m able to smile at the impulse and move on.

One thing I’m sure of is:  I’m looking forward to getting younger, and less “settled down,” with age.

Why I Stopped Worrying About Talking Too Much

I used to worry about “overstaying my welcome” with people in my life — talking to them too much, or hanging out with them too often, and causing them to get bored or irritated with me.  Or maybe, if I spent too much time with them, they’d start wondering whether I had anyone else to be with.

Believe it or not, the same concern would come up when I was about to write a blog post or say something on Facebook.  If I post too often, I thought, won’t people get tired of me, and stop reading and interacting with me?  Don’t I have to be really careful not to talk too much?

My Stunning Realization that Other People Are Grownups

These days, although the same issue still comes up for me from time to time, it feels a lot less important.  The reason is that I eventually realized that other people, seeing as how they’re adults, can actually make their own decisions about how much time they want to spend with me.

After all, if I hold back from talking to someone because I’m worried that they’ll get sick of me, aren’t I assuming they can’t protect their own time?  That they’re incapable of telling me that they’d like to spend some time alone, or spend it with somebody else?

In other words, if I assume people can’t say “no” to my requests for their time, I’m basically treating them like children who haven’t yet developed the ability to communicate what they want, and need me to take care of them.

. . . And That I’m a Grownup Too

Also, I’ve come to see that, if I’m avoiding someone because I’m worried about “taking up too much of their time,” it’s probably because, on some level, I’m afraid of how I’ll feel if they say they don’t want to be with me.  In a sense, then, I’m treating myself like a child, because I’m assuming that I’m too fragile to handle the intensity of hearing “no.”

Now, there may in fact be people out there who just couldn’t bring themselves to tell me if they didn’t want to spend time with me.  (Who knows, maybe lots of people secretly feel that way!)  And it may be that, sometimes, I’m feeling kind of sensitive, and hearing someone say they don’t want to be with me will be painful.

Still, I think it’s more respectful, and does more to promote growth — both other people’s and mine — if I treat myself and others like adults, and I let others be the judge of how much time they want to spend with me, instead of trying to decide for them.

New Steve's Quest Screenshots

We’re putting the finishing touches on the animation for the first episode of Steve’s Quest, and we expect to release the episode later this month!  To whet your appetite, I’ll share a few — oh, wait, what should I call these pictures from the episode?  Screenshots — or is that term only appropriate for video games?  Stills — or does that only work for shots of live people?

My mind boggles over this question, and perhaps rightly so, as the online animated musical is, after all, a new art form.  Maybe the fact that we’re breaking new ground means we can call these pictures anything we want.  How about something totally unique, like “fruzzils”?  Sounds vaguely Harry Potter-ish, but I don’t think that word ever actually appears in the books.  Anyway, without further ado, help yourself to some fruzzils:

Gain, the hero of Steve’s sci-fi novel, emerges from behind a wall, poised to foil the dastardly plans of his nemesis, the crimelord Wotan.

Gain pursues Wotan into “The Net,” a Matrix-like virtual world that — you guessed it — you can enter by plugging a fiberoptic cable into the back of your head.

Gain discovers a mysterious antique telephone.  What is its possibly sinister purpose?

Steve in bed, where he gets his most profound creative insights.

Steve’s Mom, on the phone — likely with the sinister purpose of harassing Steve.

Steve’s roommate Andrew, next to a truly enormous lightswitch.

A typical day at the Steve & Andrew residence.

I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into the Steve’s Quest universe — some day it will undoubtedly be called the “Steve-o-verse,” just as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe is affectionately known as the “Buffyverse.”  Anyway, more to come very soon!

New Steve’s Quest Screenshots

We’re putting the finishing touches on the animation for the first episode of Steve’s Quest, and we expect to release the episode later this month!  To whet your appetite, I’ll share a few — oh, wait, what should I call these pictures from the episode?  Screenshots — or is that term only appropriate for video games?  Stills — or does that only work for shots of live people?

My mind boggles over this question, and perhaps rightly so, as the online animated musical is, after all, a new art form.  Maybe the fact that we’re breaking new ground means we can call these pictures anything we want.  How about something totally unique, like “fruzzils”?  Sounds vaguely Harry Potter-ish, but I don’t think that word ever actually appears in the books.  Anyway, without further ado, help yourself to some fruzzils:

Gain, the hero of Steve’s sci-fi novel, emerges from behind a wall, poised to foil the dastardly plans of his nemesis, the crimelord Wotan.

Gain pursues Wotan into “The Net,” a Matrix-like virtual world that — you guessed it — you can enter by plugging a fiberoptic cable into the back of your head.

Gain discovers a mysterious antique telephone.  What is its possibly sinister purpose?

Steve in bed, where he gets his most profound creative insights.

Steve’s Mom, on the phone — likely with the sinister purpose of harassing Steve.

Steve’s roommate Andrew, next to a truly enormous lightswitch.

A typical day at the Steve & Andrew residence.

I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into the Steve’s Quest universe — some day it will undoubtedly be called the “Steve-o-verse,” just as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe is affectionately known as the “Buffyverse.”  Anyway, more to come very soon!

Long Live Peter Pan

I left my psychology graduate program a little over a week ago.  It was a decision I’d agonized over for months, mostly because of how much I care about and enjoy my fellow students.

I eventually recognized I had to cross at least one or two items off my agenda.  I’d been working on my show, doing solo law work, going to grad school at night, and organizing events for my men’s organization, and I started to notice I was spending a lot of my non-music-oriented time wishing I were working on music.

At a deeper level, I saw that, if I was going to be honest with myself, I had to admit I didn’t like the notion of choosing a path in life.  I was “keeping my options open” because I loved the exhilarating feeling of contemplating my limitless potential (a/k/a not growing up).

And Now, Ironically, For Some Psychology

On the “psychology tip,” I think Jung would have called the part of me that wanted to simultaneously pursue everything the puer aeternus, which is a fancy Latin term for “eternal boy.”  The eternal boy, like Peter Pan, wants to stay constantly in flight, never settling for too long on any perch.

On the surface, the eternal boy part of me might seem like a liability — after all, if I keep chasing every new idea that strikes my fancy, aren’t I likely to end up regretting, thirty years later, that I didn’t pursue one thing hard enough to really make a go of it?

But if we look deeper, there are amazing things about that Peter Pan energy.  The eternal boy is the source of my creativity — he thrills in flitting around between ideas and finding cool ways to put them together.

This Might Actually Help Me “Not Grow Up”

What I realized, when I thought about it, was that being clearer about my path can actually serve the eternal boy.  After all, the eternal boy doesn’t thrive under lots of structure — he doesn’t like anybody plotting his flight path — and dropping some of my recurring to-dos fed his need for freedom.

The creative part, I think, needs time to forget about time — to let go of the linear and the predictable (the “grown up”), and play around with possibilities.  With a schedule that’s too full, that doesn’t work so well.

The challenge for me now will be to let go, during the time I’ve gifted to myself, and really allow the eternal boy to play, rather than fretting that I should be doing chores or something else more “responsible.”

Seeing how much fun I’ve been having creatively over the past few years, I think I can handle it.

Choose My Next Musical

While the visual side of Steve’s Quest has been trudging along slowly but surely, I’ve been working on song ideas for other possible shows, since my goal is to write and produce a whole bunch of musicals.  My biggest ambition is to be able to say I have a musical oeuvre:)

I have several (okay, closer to many) show concepts kicking around in my head, and I’ve been struggling to settle on one to run with.  So, I’ve decided to “crowdsource” the issue, and ask which of the following show ideas you find most interesting:

1.  AstragundiaAstragundia is an animated musical comedy set in the world of a classic console fantasy role-playing game, complete with 8- or 16-bit Nintendo-style art.  Given how much console video game music influences the songs I write, this seems like a natural fit for me.

As in the typical plot of such games, the hero’s true origin is unknown, but he was found as an infant outside a humble village, and raised there by a kindly farmer couple.  Strange events transpire, such as a mysterious star falling to earth outside the village, and a girl (or girl-like being) claiming to be from a distant world coming to town, that ultimately lead our hero to embark on an epic quest to save the world of Astragundia from destruction.

2.  The Grate: I shared a bit about this concept a while back, but for those who missed it, The Grate is about a man who falls into a sewer or subway grate, and finds himself in a magical realm of immortal creatures (played by Fraggle Rock-style puppets).

The only part of the plot that has really solidified at this point is that our hero, after spending some time with the puppets, starts to notice green fur growing on his body.  The puppets tell him that, if he stays in their village, he’ll eventually turn into one of them, which will mean that, although he will have eternal life, he’ll also spend eternity looking Fraggle-esque.

So, he must choose between immortal puppethood and venturing into the darkness beyond the village.  My current thinking is that he’s freaked out by the prospect of becoming one of the creatures and leaves, and he is taken captive by some more sinister-looking puppets.  These creatures are ruled by a dark queen who turns out to be the hero’s ex-wife.  In the end, they find a way to reconcile, or at least get on speaking terms.

3.  The Therapist: This live-action show won’t actually be called The Therapist, but that is its working title because it is, shockingly enough, about a therapist.  The hero runs an afterschool program at a high school that students in the “self-contained” group, meaning kids viewed as dangerous to themselves or others, are required to attend.  The kids in the program are all male, which, for better or worse, tends to be the gender of people who commit violent crimes.

Anyway, our hero has unorthodox methods of working with the boys — rather than trying to teach them to obey society’s rules, he provides a safe place for them to talk about how they’re actually feeling, which is sometimes pretty rageful.  He also teaches them how to firmly but nonviolently stand up for themselves.

The boys’ parents and teachers feel threatened by our hero’s approach and how it seems to be changing the kids, and some of the adults try to get him fired.  I’m not sure what happens in the end, but the concept seems controversial and exciting to me.

If you prefer one of these ideas, or you’d like to suggest something else, please let me know.