Through my budding beard-centric cosmetic biz Stovepipe Soaps, I’ll be releasing a musical bar of hemp soap on June 17th. It’s called “Easy on the Leather.” It smells like leather, with a cover made by designer Michael Glowacki of Exist Designs. Looks like the cover of my favorite movie, Dazed and Confused. This isn’t a mere quinky-dink. No, this bar of soap actually comes with three songs written about and (hopefully) in the spirit of Matthew McConaughey. Here’s the wrapper:
This little bar of soap has led to a lot of interesting talks with friends and my humble little following of fans/supporters. Usually beginning with, “Uh….so why the hell are you writing about Matthew McConaughey and releasing it on a bar of soap?”
There are a lot of superficial reasons why I did this. The aforementioned Dazed and Confused reason. Also, I really like McConaugHEYYYYYY! There’s something inherently lovable about this dreamboat, doofus celebrity who was proudly arrested for playing bongos too loudly, too stoned, and too naked. As he said, “”What’s wrong with beating on your drums in your birthday suit?”
Add to that, he’s a legit great actor who left dumb rom-com roles and has made a respectable career in some truly daring, disturbing, artful flicks and shows. He won an Oscar for shit’s sakes. Who ever thought that would happen?
But most of all, I just like his attitude. He is a confident man, that’s for sure. I’d say his best attribute, as an actor and celebrity, is that he always seems to be having fun. There’s something to be said for that. Even in his lights-out dark, disturbing roles, the man seems to truly love what he does for a living. What more could anyone want?
Along with the above, there’s a deeply personal reason why I’m doing this weird little project that has also been the most fun I’ve had during my years of writing/recording tunes. Essentially, McConaughey, soap, and music helped me during the most difficult chapter of my 38 year life thus far.
In August of 2017, my partner of just under five years and wife for two of them told me she wanted to separate. Then she told me she wanted a divorce. We made it public last September and legally ended our vows shortly after my birthday.
I hope that little paragraph doesn’t make my former wife-turned-friend sound like a bad person. We had a true love, a true partnership, and some good years. But for reasons I’m not gonna get into and others I don’t understand, we needed to bring it to an end.
A fellow divorcee who I barely know personally summed up this notion best in a Facebook comment he left me under the first public post I made about the split. The simple, poignant comment made the rest of the story you’re about to read possible. Here’s what he said, directly off the post:
“While love may endure, enduring a relationship you both know hurts one another is not love. Kindness is always a grace to share. Wishing you both peace and love in letting go.”
This is the kind of simple, gut-punching wisdom that can only come out of direct experience. I read this post and let out a good three months of tears that I had been holding back until then. Honestly, I’m not trying to sound cool when I say this. For the first month post-breakup, I covered up the pain by drinking unhealthy amounts, by over eating, and other activities that I’d assume not list in detail. Then I read that person’s comment and something changed inside of me.
There are other things that helped me. Going through something that is truly, truly shitty does make you reevaluate your prior approach to thinking, acting, and choosing. I had suddenly had a lot more time than before. So I was able to read about building good habits, honing creativity, and ways to deal properly with the flaming cloud of shit that was suddenly raining on me. I started to do deep-breath meditation more consistently. I’ve even taken up some more esoteric practices like dowsing, chanting, and witchly candle stuff. Sounds weird, but I don’t care: it helps. I reconnected with someone I’ve loved for a very long time and it brought me light I hadn’t felt in too long. I met new friends and reconnected with old friends. I spent a lot of time alone, and in ways that I think were mostly healthy. I experienced closeness with someone who was a complete stranger a year ago.So there was a lot to this journey.
But something about that wee Facebook comment from a near-stranger changed my insides. To the point where I started reading a lot of self-improvement books.
I’m not kidding. That post was simple, quick, and helped immediately. I wanted more of that. And there’s something about self-help books and motivational quotes that served as an extension to that little bite from the fellow divorcee. They are collections of short, powerful slogans that, when authentic, are forged out of long times of difficulty. They sound goofy, but McConaughey as my witness, they help.
Some of the books I read were awful. Others worse than awful. But for a genre that I have spent not-a-few hours mocking and avoiding, I can honestly say that, were it not for silly books telling me to “chase my dreams or your life will be a nightmare,” that “when you hit bottom, the only thing you can do is look up,” I guarantee I’d still be quaffing bottles of Early Times in my long johns, watching grainy pornos while eating frozen pizza.
Great as these books were, the “healing process” that had begun after that unnamed gent’s Facebook post, extending into “you don’t suck” books, took another turn for the good around Thanksgiving. This is where Matthew McConaughey comes in.
I was in the living room trying to find Dazed and Confused for free on YouTube. I didn’t. But I did come across McConaughey’s Oscar speech. Here it is:
It’s that last part with the “my hero is always ten years away” bullshit at the end that again delivered the kind of necessary life-punch that wounds, then heals. He probably came up with it while stoned out of his gourd, probably playing bongos and maybe even in his birthday suit. But there is something quick and profound about it that stopped my breath, and still does. This notion that we are always chasing but never catching our best self. Always voyaging but never totally arriving at a better place. Even that goofy stuff about “respect yourself, and you’ll respect others” relates well to the more profound ending of the speech. Who else should your hero be but a better you? How can you respect others if you don’t respect yourself? And how can you even begin to love another person if you don’t love yourself?
I watched this speech and my entire life improved instantly.
Just kidding. As McCon says in the speech, “Not even close!!!!!”
Even recently, I’ve still gotten hammered during sad times. Still have woken up too late to accomplish what I wanted to. Still fallen asleep too early when I should have been burning the midnight oil on songwriting, soapmaking, or perusing YouTube for free.
But I do feel and act better than I have in years. I feel progress and deep, realistic positivity. I’ve learned how to make soap, beard balms, and other self-cleansing stuff that I’ve always had some weird interest in. I have spent more time over the past post-marriage months practicing my instruments than I have in entire years. Each day I set aside time to work on writing songs and have seen them improve as a result. My own music career feels more organized, more together and inspiring than ever before.
I also feel more spiritually vibrant than I did during the years when I was a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Prayers answered when they should be. For the first time in a long time, I know that next year will be better than this one. That I’ll struggle and chase and not totally get there, but I’ll be somewhere good if I give it an honest shot, a clear mind. I’ve learned that when you put focused effort into yourself, into your talents, and develop good habits that even better opportunities come.
I do not mean to come across as cocky or sound like some second-rate inspirational meme. Those who know me know what a self-loathing, depressed, horrified creature I can be. But a year ago I was physically unhealthy, drinking heavily, and not putting time into the things I’m best at. Today I feel better, I think I look better, I’ve written the songs that I’m most proud of, and have already seen some early success with Stovepipe Soaps. I like the person I see in the mirror when I shave my head.
I don’t feel perfect. But I feel cleansed and cleansing.
Yes, like soap.
Yes, I feel alright-alright-alright.
In conclusion, let me know write something that’s inevitably gonna be quite long and not concluding.
In the days and months to follow the split, a lot of well-meaning but tactless folks asked a question that I still don’t like:
“Why did it happen?”
Or as one even more tactless, well-meaning person asked:
“How did you get from point A (married) to point B (divorced)?????”
I still don’t have a lot of patience for these types of questions, and a lot of empathy for the other divorcees who I can’t imagine do either. If I knew the answer then I’d probably still be married to my former wife. I know that I fell in love with a smart, fiery, beautiful Italian gal shortly before my 33 birthday. We started dating seriously almost immediately, met each other’s families shortly after, moved in together, hiked-read-listened to records-traveled-fought-made up-barely made it-started making it-raised a foster kid-got married-moved-built another home together-fought-fought more-barely talked-loved each other-hated each other-tolerated each other-made up-separated then separated more then split then were horrible to each other then were, I think, pretty damn good to each other. Now we are two people who are friends that wish each other well.
So what happened? I don’t have a fuckin’ clue. Love happened, then it didn’t happen anymore and that’s the very best way I can describe it.
After this season of divorce, I never in a million years thought I’d have anything valuable to say about love, marriage, or even divorce. But during this time a number of people going through something similar have reached out to me and said they felt heard and helped. I hope so.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from this whole beautiful shitstorm.
There are a million different ways to express and experience love. Strike that. There are infinite ways. And I think there are infinite people we could share it with. Some of those expressions and experiences are supposed to be permanent, some are not.
Be grateful for every day you get to spend with someone that you love and who loves you back. If you learn that this love is gonna be experienced as temporary then, I’m sorry, let it be temporary. Sure, get help. Seek advice. Go to marriage counseling. Have good couples around you. But with some exceptions, I think most of those who see their marriage or partnership fall apart know in their hearts when it’s over. Let it be over, I say. It’s not giving up. It’s not cowardice. It’s called self-honesty. I don’t mean to sound pompous, but I think there’s a lot of true, hard love expressed by the act of letting your partner go. Or by entering the horrible, necessary struggle of respecting their right to let you go.
After the divorce? Take a lot of time to be alone. But if you’re alone too much then please reach out to friends and family. My friends showed me acts of kindness during this time that were selfless and transcendent. I made it through because of them. My family ran immediately to my side without judgment. A few people took the time to tell me I was wrong, lazy, sinful, etc. You’ll meet them if you go through a split, I guarantee it. Give these types no entryway into your life. If they are already in it, show them the exit. Move on.
Ask yourself questions that hurt. Expect answers that hurt more Treat yourself to some healthy hedonism. Do a little dance, make a little love. Basically…get down tonight. But most importantly, take the time to give yourself the focus you deserve. You have a wonderful newfound freedom to learn new skills and pick up old ones. If you pray or mediate, pray or mediate longer. Take a lot of walks without headphones on. Find occasional, careful ways to show your former spouse that you care for them, even if it has to be from afar. If they date someone else then embrace the pain of it, but wish them both well. I did a lot wrong during this process. But I saw a picture of her and her new partner looking like we used to. Giddy, in-love, and happy. Once you get past the initial difficulty of seeing this face-to-face, keep looking. Try to wish them well. Celebrate a new love coming into the world for someone you care about. You’ll be filled with a warmth for them that feels like drinking the best tasting water you’ve ever had, the best air you’ve breathed, and you feel a love for everything and everyone that ever was.
Better put, it feels ‘alright-alright-alright.’
I hope that even in during the hardest chapters of your life, you’ll find a way to feel the same. That you’ll respect yourself and in turn others. That you’ll keep chasing the hero that is your better self. That you’ll never fully catch them but that you’ll always be closer.
Also: buy my musical soap. Here are the songs.