All Writings | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Why I’m Doing Steve’s Quest, Part 1: Something to Talk About

A mentor of mine suggested that I explain what drove me to create Steve’s Quest, because that might help people connect with the show and understand what it has to offer.  And, by golly, I think I will.

Basically, as odd as it may sound, I came up with the show as part of an effort to feel comfortable talking to people about myself.

About seven years ago, I really didn’t have anything going on my life other than my career as a lawyer, and that wasn’t just because of the amount of time I spent in the office.

Granted, I can’t recall how many times I stayed up all night working on a project, or (perhaps worse) the number of times I woke up at 4 a.m. to make sure I could turn in a document I’d drafted by morning.  (At 4 a.m., the coffee in the office was really stale.)

But despite this schedule, I did have a good deal of “free time” — I just used it in unfulfilling ways.  Basically, outside of practicing law, my life consisted of going to the gym, playing video games, and going on uninspired dates with women.

I Needed Others to Show Me My Life Sucked

The funny thing was that, when I was by myself, my lifestyle seemed tolerable.  After all, I lived in a comfortable, sunny environment, and all my basic needs were met.  It was when I got asked about myself that I struggled.

When someone asked what I did with my life — whether they were talking about my career or my spare time — I’d find myself getting irritated and I’d usually try to change the subject.  Somehow, talking to other people about my life revealed how dissatisfied I was with it.

Living to Impress Others = Solitary Video Gaming

Eventually, I found myself asking a strange question:  “what can I do with my life that will make me feel better when I talk about myself?”

This was a sea change in my view on the ideal lifestyle.  Before, consciously or not, I’d been designing my life based on a very different question:  “what can I do with my life that will impress people when I talk about it?”

Naturally, this way of thinking led me to a career I thought would sound lucrative and prestigious to others, and to a secluded, risk-free life that was calculated not to offend anyone.

But that . . . was soon to change.

In the next thrilling episode of “Why I’m Doing Steve’s Quest,” I’ll talk about my various lifestyle experiments and the hilarity that ensued.

The New Look of Steve’s Quest, Part 1: The Characters

It’s been a long journey since the inception of Steve’s Quest on that fateful plane ride back from Boston I took about two years ago.  We’re almost at the finish line – well, the first of many finish lines, anyway, since we’re scheduled to release Episode 1 in December 2013, and ideally to put out another episode each month after that.

Without a doubt, the biggest struggle we’ve had here at Steve’s Quest HQ has been with finding an art and animation style that works for the show.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve finally hit paydirt.  If you haven’t seen the brief clip from Episode 2 of the show that we put together, I think you’ll definitely get what I mean if you check it out.

Our original approach was to do the show’s art in a classic, Hanna-Barbera style.  I wanted to employ the visual gag of depicting Steve and his fellow office workers with the same art style used to draw the Superfriends, despite Steve’s lack of superpowers and fairly mundane life.

For example, this was the original poster design for the show, which was actually inspired by a Superfriends poster I own:

And this is the original NextComm, the software company where Steve works:

While I think these designs look great, the feedback I got from a number of people was that they’d seen this kind of art a few too many times before.  I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise, because lots of people have watched Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Just a few months ago, I started working with the art team of Hoyt Silva and Michelle Poust, who came with their own ready-made vision for the look of the show.  The art is a lot more stylized now – the characters’ facial features are more like geometric shapes, and contain unusual color, like Tord’s (below) solid green eyes.

The new Steve

The new Tord (Steve’s co-worker)

This gives the show a distinctive look, and one that I definitely wouldn’t have come up with on my own (I draw a mean stick figure, but that’s about it as far as my visual art sensibilities go).  And it’s made the show all the more exciting for me to work on.

There are a lot more HBO First Look-style vignettes coming soon for Steve’s Quest – watch this space.

Sample Scene from Steve’s Quest

Okay, so it took us a while to work out the “look and feel” of Steve’s Quest, but I think we’ve settled on an art and animation style that is equal parts sleek, sci-fi and silly, which is exactly what I’m going for. But don’t take my word for it — check out the sample scene below!

By the way, we are all set to release Episode 1 of Steve’s Quest in December — looking forward to sharing the finished product. If you enjoy the video, I’d appreciate a “Like” on YouTube.

YouTube Preview Image

Un-Kinking The Hose Of Love

I don’t know about you, but I usually feel the most love and compassion toward people right after I tell them I’m irritated about something they did.  Somehow, revealing that I’m annoyed at them frees up my ability to truly love them again.

I had this kind of experience recently with a friend.  My friend was giving me some advice, and talking to me in a way that seemed condescending to me.  I debated for a while whether I was going to tell him, and eventually I bit the bullet.

When I told him I was feeling resentful as he was talking to me, I suddenly felt a great deal of tension in my shoulders melting away, and I got back in touch with how much I cared about him.  Immediately, I found myself saying how deeply I valued having him in my life.

On the other hand, if I’m annoyed at someone and I hide it, I tend to feel tight and anxious around them, and experiencing real love for them gets hard.  If I tell them I love them, my voice has a deadpan or barking quality to it.

The Hose Metaphor Explained

A mentor of mine once described this kind of experience by saying that each person is like a hose.  The water flowing through the hose is like the collection of all the emotions we feel — love, anger, sadness, and so on.

If we try to pretend we’re not feeling something, we basically kink up the hose and cut off the water.  When we do this, we stifle all the emotions flowing through the hose — not just the one we’re trying to avoid.  So, if we push our anger away, we end up pushing love away as well.

Love Can Thrive Alongside Anger

For a long time, I didn’t understand how all this works.  I believed, as I think many do, that love is basically the opposite of emotions like anger and boredom, and can only exist when anger is absent.

But the truth, I think, is that love is something that naturally arises when I’m fully open to what I’m feeling, wherever it might take me — basically, when I un-kink the hose.  If I’m willing to acknowledge and even show my irritation, I get access to love as well.

Sometimes admitting what’s really going on for me is easier said than done, but I think experiencing genuine love is worth the struggle.

Doing Non-”Monetizable” Work And Loving It

I feel compassion for people who, when I tell them about a project I’m doing, immediately ask me “but how can you make money doing that?”

My sense is that people who ask this question are assuming that no work is worth doing unless you know you’re likely to get paid for it.  I think that assumption not only limits the joy we can get out of life, but probably, and ironically, also limits our ability to make money.

My Most Fun Work Is Unpaid

For me, the most enjoyable activities in my life take up a lot of time and energy, and don’t carry any promise of financial reward.  Songwriting, for instance, involves hours of trying out and throwing away musical ideas.

Not only that, but I don’t get paid for the time I spend songwriting.  Maybe (and that’s a big maybe) I’ll earn something later from the sale of a song, music downloads, or something along those lines, but I don’t get to charge anyone by the hour for messing around on my piano in search of inspiration.

All the same, if I stopped writing songs because there was no guarantee that I’d be compensated for doing it, I think my life would be much less interesting than it is right now.

We Get Paid More For Risking Getting Nothing

What’s more, it seems as if the people who make the most money — who are, increasingly, entrepreneurs — do so because they’re willing to try something others haven’t attempted, and take a higher risk of coming away from their venture with “nothing to show for it” than most of us can stomach.

So, if money happens to be our priority (not that it really is for me), it could be that we actually do ourselves a disservice by refusing to do work that doesn’t come with a guarantee of payment.

And for that matter, can we ever really know for certain how likely we are to make money doing anything, at least in the long term?

After all, even if I have a job that appears stable and safe on the surface, I can’t say for sure whether I’ll still have that job two weeks from today.  There’s uncertainty surrounding everything we do for money, as hard as that might sometimes be to admit to ourselves.

That being said, I do think, on occasion, about ways I can make money doing music-related stuff, and how I can “monetize” all the other weird projects I’m involved in.  But I find that my life is a lot richer when I’m willing to accept the risk of not getting paid for the activities I do, and I spend as much time as possible doing things I like enough to do for free.

Why It’s Better To Be “A Guy Who Writes” Than “A Writer”

To me, saying “I’m a writer” feels very different from saying “I’m writing a story.”

If I tell myself, or someone else, that “I’m a writer,” I’m basically communicating, in the language of our culture, that writing is not only my main source of income, but also the core of the contribution I make to humanity.

The more I go around saying “I’m a writer,” the more pressure I’ll feel to produce work that can be “monetized,” and that I want people to remember me by.  After all, if I’m a writer but I’m not “making a living” at it, or my work isn’t garnering attention, aren’t I, in some sense, lying to people when I tell them I’m a writer?  And if I churn out writing that’s less than perfect, aren’t I tarnishing the legacy I’m going to leave to the world?

For me, being under that kind of pressure when I’m trying to write produces what’s often called “writer’s block.”  Because so much is riding on the success and significance of my writing, I start obsessively second-guessing every word, and it gets hard to make progress.  Thinking of myself as “a writer,” ironically, makes it hard to write.

The Benefits of Being a “Dude Who Happens to Write Stuff”

On the other hand, if I say “I’m writing a story,” I don’t communicate anything about my career or purpose in life.  I simply describe something I enjoy doing, just as if I were saying “I’m going to a concert this weekend” or “I’m taking a hike tomorrow.”

If I take this perspective, the fear of being criticized, or of criticizing myself, for “screwing up at writing” disappears.  Making a mistake, or doing something less than perfectly, no longer threatens my identity or sense of self-worth.

Why We Don’t Have to Force Ourselves to Play

I think this is a key reason why activities we think of as “hobbies,” like hiking and going to concerts, tend to be more relaxing and enjoyable than activities we see as “work.”  When I’m hiking, the possibility that someone might put me down for being a “bad hiker” doesn’t even occur to me, and thus there’s nothing to stress about.

The result of shifting my mindset from “I’m a writer” to “I’m writing something” is that writing becomes more fun and less effortful.  If my legacy, and my contribution to humanity, are no longer “on the line” each time I write, I don’t need to obsessively seek perfection, and I become able to get a lot more done.

I think we limit our creativity every time we start identifying with what we create, or with our role as a creator.  Creativity flows more naturally when we think of it as a “hobby” or “pastime” that doesn’t put our value in the world at risk, even if it’s what we do with a large chunk of our time.

Why It's Better To Be "A Guy Who Writes" Than "A Writer"

To me, saying “I’m a writer” feels very different from saying “I’m writing a story.”

If I tell myself, or someone else, that “I’m a writer,” I’m basically communicating, in the language of our culture, that writing is not only my main source of income, but also the core of the contribution I make to humanity.

The more I go around saying “I’m a writer,” the more pressure I’ll feel to produce work that can be “monetized,” and that I want people to remember me by.  After all, if I’m a writer but I’m not “making a living” at it, or my work isn’t garnering attention, aren’t I, in some sense, lying to people when I tell them I’m a writer?  And if I churn out writing that’s less than perfect, aren’t I tarnishing the legacy I’m going to leave to the world?

For me, being under that kind of pressure when I’m trying to write produces what’s often called “writer’s block.”  Because so much is riding on the success and significance of my writing, I start obsessively second-guessing every word, and it gets hard to make progress.  Thinking of myself as “a writer,” ironically, makes it hard to write.

The Benefits of Being a “Dude Who Happens to Write Stuff”

On the other hand, if I say “I’m writing a story,” I don’t communicate anything about my career or purpose in life.  I simply describe something I enjoy doing, just as if I were saying “I’m going to a concert this weekend” or “I’m taking a hike tomorrow.”

If I take this perspective, the fear of being criticized, or of criticizing myself, for “screwing up at writing” disappears.  Making a mistake, or doing something less than perfectly, no longer threatens my identity or sense of self-worth.

Why We Don’t Have to Force Ourselves to Play

I think this is a key reason why activities we think of as “hobbies,” like hiking and going to concerts, tend to be more relaxing and enjoyable than activities we see as “work.”  When I’m hiking, the possibility that someone might put me down for being a “bad hiker” doesn’t even occur to me, and thus there’s nothing to stress about.

The result of shifting my mindset from “I’m a writer” to “I’m writing something” is that writing becomes more fun and less effortful.  If my legacy, and my contribution to humanity, are no longer “on the line” each time I write, I don’t need to obsessively seek perfection, and I become able to get a lot more done.

I think we limit our creativity every time we start identifying with what we create, or with our role as a creator.  Creativity flows more naturally when we think of it as a “hobby” or “pastime” that doesn’t put our value in the world at risk, even if it’s what we do with a large chunk of our time.

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.