Friday, August 03, 2007

Project Everlasting

I was on the road one morning, driving along the 15 freeway here in Southern California, flipping stations on the radio as I always do. I came across an interview with these two guys who wrote a book about marriage ans stopping scanning for rock music. My ears perked up. Marriage? Love? I wanted to hear more. I love love. I love hearing stories about how people met and how they have stayed together. The guys on the radio sounded like fun and the topic was interesting. While I was driving, I found an old receipt and a pen in my purse and scribbled down Project Everlasting. By time I reached my destination, the interview was over but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

I highly recommend Project Everlasting written by two bachelors in search of answers about marriage. Mat and Jason took a trip around the country to interview what they call “Marriage Masters”- couples who have been together for decades. The book is full of stories of love and dedication. Its not all sunshine and happiness though- these couples have gone through tough times and bleak periods in their relationship but have stuck together and have loved each other throughout whatever life has thrown at them. The book is so heartwarming and endearing and wonderful. You will love it whether you are married or single. The stories these couples share bring tears to my eyes. I mean, who doesn't want to be loved?
It's really neat to see two guys with this vision and learn how they made it happen. I love the idea and wish I had thought of it myself. I wish them the best of luck as they promote Project Everlasting!

What are the most profound things you have learned during your Project Everlasting tour? Things that you will think about every day or lessons learned?

Mat: The real question is what haven’t I learned? There are so many things. Number one would have to be how these couples gave me the rare gift of seeing the reality of their marriages, which included all the beautiful, touching, and amazing parts, as well as, the challenging aspects that lifelong relationships can bring. I cringe at the thought of what my marriage would have been like had I not taken the time to listen to these incredible couples. For example, if my future wife and I had encountered tough times, I would have been inclined to think that I’d married the wrong person. Now I know that even the greatest of marriages go through trials and tribulations, and traversing rocky roads is simply a part of being in a lifelong romance.

Secondly, we asked every couple for their number one secret to a successful marriage. Almost every couple gave the same answer. And I have to say; at first I was completely disappointed with their response. You’ll probably be disappointed too. Over and over again couples said “respect” was the key to their success. Over the years, these couples cultivated an incredible discipline of respect. It was like they had black belt in the art of respect. Myself? Apparently, I’m still a white belt.

Jason: I’ll answer this in a before and after the Project Everlasting journey we’ve been on for the last four years:

BEFORE: Matrimony, the way I view it on my life's time line, has always seemed a "probably within the next two years" proposition. I've been saying this since my early days of college, oh, eight years ago. Sometimes I imagine myself at eighty years old, pushing my walker through the retirement home hallways in an attempt to escape the two twenty-something researcher guys running around with a documentary film camera in search of secrets to lifelong love and marriage because I don't want to tell them how I never could find a way to sway my lonesome tune. My point is that I'm not hardwired to embrace the marital journey as a necessity for a happy, fulfilled existence on this planet.

AFTER: I realize now that I’ve spent the majority of my adult relationship life paralyzed by fear, scared, first and foremost, that I wasn’t going to be loving enough in the long run to make my mate happy. I was fearful of making mistakes, of hurting someone who might love me, and of being confused (once again) by the beast of giddy emotion which I’ve always known as Love. After sitting with all of these couples, my heart has been saturated with a deep sense of faith in my abilities to be loving for a lifetime. As Mat and I discussed early in our research, we wanted to walk away with inspired hearts—not just knowledgeable in marriage success—but with greater courage and willingness to work through our particular relationship struggles.

We go around talking about the book so much these days that it’s easy for me to forget how dramatic and sincere my shift was, from a very scared bachelor to a man who trusts his inherent ability for being a truly great husband one day.

The film version of the book features music by none other than Justin Guarini of American Idol fame! Did you ask him about From Justin to Kelly? How did you guys hook up with Justin? Did you consider trying to work with Constantine from season 4?

Mat: It’s funny how the principle of six-degrees of separation works. Networking truly is a powerful thing. Justin is a friend of a friend. Our friend told him about Project Everlasting and that we needed a theme song for our documentary film. Justin is so talented (not to mention a genuinely nice guy) that he sat down that night and wrote and produced an amazing song for us within a matter of hours! When we heard the song we knew it had to kick off the documentary film.

As far as Constantine from season 4 is concerned, I watched the first season of American Idol, but then I didn’t watch it again until this final year. That’s what happens when you’re in the throes of getting a creative project off the ground. Can you say—no life!? So I don’t know who Constantine is, but if you’re recommending her, maybe we should contact her as well. (psssst, Constantine is a guy)

Jason: Justin Guarini has such a huge heart and—in this case—a charitable heart. One of my friends knows him well, well enough to ask if he'd put together a theme song for our project and, specifically, for the documentary film trailer. I've only spoken with him a few times personally, but what I gathered from my first few impressions was that he's an incredibly down-to-earth, selfless human being, not to mention a very talented human being. He wrote, recorded, and produced the “Everlasting” track practically overnight and never asked for a dime; he seemed happy to support our mission.

After interviewing so many “marriage masters” do you guys think you are sufficiently schooled in the art of marriage? What is something about yourselves that you know you have to change? What nasty habits do you need to ditch - like spitting slimy sunflower seeds in a cup while driving?

Mat: Speaking of being “schooled in the art of marriage”, one thing the Marriage Masters demonstrated is that intellectual knowledge doesn’t cut it in the world of relationships. It’s all about the practice. Like I said before, the principles that lead to an amazing marriage are like muscles that need to be developed over time. The Marriage Masters confessed that in the beginning of their relationships they weren’t able to handle the stressful marital situations as well as they can now, but over time they got better as those “muscles” developed. I know I have a lot of growing to do. And if I’m real honest with myself, I’d have to say that my patience can be lacking at times. If I had to change one thing that would probably be it—I would ask for more patience. Actually, that reminds me of a quote I heard recently. “A man prayed for patience, so God gave him a line to stand in.” Looks like I’ve got a lot of lines to stand in before I’ll have the patience these marriage masters show to one another.

Jason: Do I think I'm sufficiently schooled in the art of marriage? No. Trust me, I know how to use self-deprecation for great effect, but it'd be best for me to just be plain about it: I have a lot more to learn. I overheard someone today on the plane, a motherly type, complaining that her children never received sufficient training for managing personal finances, and thus her “child has piles of debt and a credit score that makes me cry.” The same can certainly be said about matrimony. Sure, I've watched the example my parents set forth (and I'm luckier than most to have such a positive example), but only after sitting with over 300 couples and grilling them about their relationship's success principles do I know how little I knew about marriage. In the book I talk about my naiveté surrounding the virtue of commitment, how I'd always figured “once I find her, Mrs. Right for Me, I'm gonna be good for life—the trick is freaking finding her!” Hence my long running “aka”: Kid Oblivion.

I do think often about how I can be more respectful to the people around me, although I’m having a really hard time avoiding my sunflower seeds…can’t someone just love me for my little addiction? I come from a family who thrives on sarcasm; it’s almost an expression of admiration in my household. Mat, on the other hand, hates that form of humor—he really gets offended by it. It’s taken a while to adjust and, actually, this book writing process (and our near divorce midway through!) has been a tremendous opportunity for us to communicate more openly about our forms of disrespect and how to fix them in order to be better friends to one another. So I guess it’s not all for naught—we’re making progress! We like each other again!

Based on the hundreds of interviews you conducted, what are the biggest obstacles in every marriage? Why do so many people get divorced rather than try to weather the rough patches?

Mat: That’s a great question. When it comes to obstacles in marriage it seemed like every couple was different. Some people battled with internal struggles like personality differences or unmet expectations while others faced with external stressors like crazy-in laws, disease or even death of a child. And yet there were some couples who appeared as if they had hardy any challenges at all. However, there was one thing almost all of the Marriage Masters acknowledged as a critical factor in their staying together—an undying commitment to each other.

We sat with an adorable couple married 63 years named Ruth and Eddie Elcott. After asking them for their secrets to marriage, Ruth said matter-of-factly, “There are three keys when it comes to marriage. The first is commitment. The second is commitment. And lastly you have commitment. And then you can think of the next thing.”

The Marriage Masters would often say that divorce was not a word in their vocabulary. They went into their marriage with the mindset that they were going to make it work not matter what. It’s an incredible thing to see what that kind of commitment can accomplish. We saw couples overcome incredible hardships, but even more importantly we saw the kind of love that’s born from having overcome such circumstances.

Now, I’d like to add a quick disclaimer here. We are not advocating, nor are the Marriage Masters, staying in an unhealthy relationship. There are appropriate times to end the marriage, such as in abusive, adulterous or addiction riddled relationships. However, a lot of couples today don’t enter marriage with the same level of commitment as couples 50 years ago. There tends to be a lackadaisical attitude towards marriage. For example, I recently heard about a couple replacing the phrase “until death do we part” with “until our time together is done.” What does that mean—until we get sick of each other or one of us gets bored? The Marriage Masters agree, the one thing missing from today’s marriages is most definitely commitment.

Jason: This answer probably won't sound profound (it didn't carry much weight for me when I heard it the first hundred times from our interviewees), but I believe there is a great wisdom not to be overlooked in this favorite saying: “Marriage is a bed of roses, thorns and all.” It's the Marriage Masters’ subtle way of saying, Look, young man, your relationship is going to hit some major obstacles. Expect this and you'll find yourself ten steps ahead of most couples today. So there’s a naiveté, that’s one reason, I think, but I also think there’s a deep seeded belief buried within most people’s hearts that we are supposed to take care of ourselves first, second, and third…I’ll be the first to admit that my selfishness is a demon in my relationships with others. The greatest marriages had this underlying principle of “togetherness” through it all. Rather than point fingers when the rough patches hit—as a self-centered type would do—many of our Marriage Masters leaned on one another and tackled the obstacle as a team. It seems to me that their generations were brought up with this mindset and taught to care for community and family just as much as “me, myself, and I”, if not more. I wish I knew a simple way to bring our generation closer to that selflessness. In the meantime, I usually have to remind myself: “Hey, guy, get over yourself.”

Watching the clips on your website, I couldn’t help but think it would make a fabulous TV special. Has there been any interest in putting the documentary film on television?

Mat: We’re actually in talks right now with some networks and production companies to turn the book into a television series. We’re still discussing the best outlet for the documentary film. Right now, the best place for people to get the documentary film is at, as we don’t have distribution yet. But the fun part is we’ve been receiving rave reviews from those who have seen it. It’s so rewarding to be a part of a mission that touches people’s hearts. And who knows, maybe someone reading this will fall in love with the film and have the connections to get it out to couples across the nation. You just never know.

Jason: I agree! All of this footage we’ve shot—over 500 hours’ worth now—needs an outlet for wider viewership. We’ve been talking to a couple production companies in Los Angeles in hopes of creating a whole TV show based on our journey, but nothing is sticking yet. The CW Network actually bought the TV rights to the book before we even wrote it, but the pilot episode didn’t end up getting the green light for production. The rights have since expired, so now we’d love to explore how to get this material on to a Hallmark Channel or Lifetime network. In regards to airing the Project Everlasting documentary film on TV, I think you’re on to something, maybe on the smaller network level. Mat and I are testing the marketability at various film festivals this summer, so maybe some TV exec will be sitting in the audience and see the potential!

Project Everlasting obviously took a lot of time and effort. Did the outcome of your work meet your expectations?

Mat: We’ve been working on Project Everlasting for four years. Fifteen months into the project we created vision boards with images of all the goals. I remember filling the board with pictures of the Today Show, cutouts of Oprah’s logo, and phrases like “New York Times Bestseller”. There was no holding back. We tried to envision the biggest possible impact we could with Project Everlasting. We even had the Project Everlasting TV Show edging out Survivor in the Neilson ratings! Everyday I would walk into my office and see that board with the cut outs of our book next to the Today Show staring back at me. So you can imagine what it felt like to later be sitting on the Today Show looking at Natalie Morales holding our book. It’s an absolutely incredible feeling to have a dream come true, and at this point it’s definitely met and in some ways exceeded my expectations. But don’t get me wrong we still have a long way to go. We have yet to walk down the red carpet for the premiere of Project Everlasting’s feature film in LA and Broadway play in New York.

Jason: Tell me about it—what a process! You know, the outcome of the book and film actually far exceeds my expectations. For quite a while now, Mat and I have been envisioning how it would feel to walk into Barnes & Noble or Borders and see Project Everlasting on the front shelves, or how it would feel to sit among an audience laughing and crying as they watch our film, but I never received a clear image of what it would feel like to actually read our book and truly enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to toot my own horn; I’m just surprised at how meaningful this book is to me. The world of readers out there can do their own investigation to decide if they agree with me, but I know that I could pick this book up at the library or wherever and find a full spectrum of “moments” that would forever change my view of love and relationships.

What kind of music do you each like to listen to and who got to be in charge of the tunes while you drove across the country? Is one of you a better driver than the other one?

Mat: Funny! Music is such an important part of road-tripping. So I’m glad Jason and my spectrum of taste in music overlaps a bit. However, we do have our differences. I’m definitely eclectic in my taste. I love R&B, Hip Hop, Funk, Latin and World music, anything I can dance to. For example, Timbaland, Nelly Furtado, and Craig David are a few of my faves. But I also love Carlos Nakai, Nora Jones, U2, Death Cab for Cutie, Enya, etc. I’ve also been known to rock out to some 80’s ballads every now and then.

And as far as the better driver part is concerned, I think I have the record for taking out the most stop signs with the back of the RV.

Jason: Ha! Are you trying to instigate a battle with this question? I get it; you want to see if we’ve learned to argue respectfully now that we’ve published a whole chapter on the subject, right? Ok, cool. I’m the better driver. Mat hits stop signs while taking turns. Way better. Watch the bombs explode on both sides now.

What kind of music do I enjoy? Well, we all used to dig the Garden State soundtrack quite a bit. But that was before the nationwide tour. We forgot to grab the CD case before we left Los Angeles so we pretty much listened to that CD on average eight times a day for nine weeks straight. I will not listen to any of those songs on that disc ever, ever again. Instead, I will usually kick back and relax with some good ol’ Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine, Death Cab, Radiohead, Fiona Apple, Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, Belle & Sebastian, Smashing Pumpkins (they’re back—yes!), Felix da Housecat, and, most recently, Peter Bjorn and John.

What do you like to do in your down time?

Mat: Does being addicted to the gym qualify as down time? I guess that can serve to counterbalance my sugar and caffeine addiction. No, seriously…I have to get my workouts in more for distressing and decompressing than anything else. It definitely helps me keep my mind right. I love game night with grandma and the friends. It can get a little crazy too—the other night I caught grandma pouring vodka-on-the-rocks at 4:00am during one of our all night domino marathons. Naughty, naughty grandma.

In the summers, you can find me negotiating river rapids on an inner-tube, launching off rope swings into icy lakes, camping level-2-style, or going city-side and enjoying some beers with friends at the bars. In the winter, I’m carving it up on Mt. Hood, seeing the latest flick, or escaping the Oregon rain down in Cabo San Lucas while visiting my relatives. Speaking of relatives, I’m a big time family guy. So when I get the chance, I love to spend time playing “monster game” with my nieces and nephews. Roooaaar! (yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd).

Jason: What down time? Show me some down time, por favor! I’ll tell you what I’d love to do with this phantom down time: fly fishing on the Blackfoot River in Missoula, MT; snowboarding up at Mt. Hood; mountain biking along the great trails here in Oregon; wine tasting and brewery visiting anywhere, but especially Napa Valley; camping with all of my buddies; and last but not least…SCRABBLE! (Or any other board game with the family.)

So you’re looking for some Bachelorettes to take on the road for your next project. I hear Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are single. What types of girls are you looking for?

Mat: I’m not looking right now. I’ve heard that’s the best strategy. Right? They always tell me I’ll find her when I’m not looking, so right now I’m not looking. But I have to be honest and say, that’s much easier said then done. I still find myself running girls through my mental marriage gauntlet. I’ve been known to mentally rehearse her first name with my last name to see if there is any ring to it, and that’s just the beginning. Is God an important part of her life? Does she like to work out, dance, do Yoga, at least sweat a little? Will NFL Sunday be are part of her weekend ritual? I’ve learned common values are a must. Oh! And a plus if she’s athletic (good genes for my future kids). Anyways, I recently wrote up a two to three page relationship manifesto describing in detail the kind of woman I am attracting into my life. I won’t bore you with the whole thing here, but if you’re interested here’s the link where you can download it:

Jason: Yeah, but did you see the cellulite buildup on the back of Britney’s lower calf, featured prominently on the cover of every celebrity rag in the checkout aisle? My road trip bachie cannot have excess lower calf fat, rule number one. Rule number two…wait, I thought we threw our “qualification lists” out the window in chapter two of the book?! Ok, I take all that back. I want Britney Spears AND Paris Hilton to join me for our next tour! Can you imagine the publicity?

Sidenote: I’ve met both Paris and Britney before and the latter became a reoccurring object of desire in my dreams at night for about two years straight…then she married her Rapper’s Delight. My subconscious’s love spell was immediately broken. Who knows though, our road trip could reignite the heart.

Did you take any time off after completing the book or did you go straight to work on your next project?

Mat: Thank goodness we got some time off, I was so burnt! After we turned in the book I spent a month down in Cabo San Lucas visiting my family. My dad, brother, his wife and three kids, and my younger brother all live down there. “If you ever get the chance to spend some time down there I highly recommend it. It’s so choice” (adapted famous Ferris Bueller line, one of my favorite movies BTW). I spent most of my time relaxing on the beach, reading, getting sun burnt, playing with the kids, and working on my salsa moves. Ah yes, a very handy skill when it comes to meeting Latin women.

Jason: Our editor and agents keep hammering us to get this next book proposal done, but it’s been difficult for us to settle on one idea and stick with it for more than a week. You see, commitment issues aren’t specific to romantic relationships for us! Hooray—that’s it! A how-to book that helps commitment phobic authors decide on their next book topic. So to answer your question: yes, we’ve taken some time off to promote this book, speak, and land on our next big idea. And now you’re wondering, “But what about the bachelorettes? I thought they were going to be involved in book two?” Yes, before you go thinking we just wanted to collect girls’ names and numbers for the sake of collecting girls’ names and numbers, we submitted a proposal which involved another road trip—this time with extra-special female perspectives—but Simon & Schuster turned it down.

If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Mat: I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica. I hear the beaches there are pristine and the surfing is unbelievable. Plus, I’d love to perfect my Spanish. I think 6 months down there would be a nice vacation, don’t you? I could see myself in a little bungalow by the beach. I’d sit on the sand and play my Kiowa flute, or my Djembe to the sunset. I’d eat ceviche, sleep late, surf, make friends with the locals, explore the rainforests, etc. Now all I have to do is figure out how to pay for it. Hmmm…

Jason: I like this question. It gets me thinking, “Hmm, isn’t it about time to take a vacation?” The first thing that pops into my mind is a camping and fly fishing tour up that Blackfoot River outside of Missoula. Maybe throw some innertubes in the mix, some friends and s’mores and clear skies (the view of the stars out there is unforgettable), and I’m good to go. Any of your readers want to join me?

Where do you see yourselves in the next five years?

Mat: Five years from now? Let see…I’ll provide a little affirmation for myself. Here is goes. I see myself more centered and grounded in who I am. I live each day with lightness, joy, and with a loving generous spirit. Laughter is an ever-present experience in my life. I completely enjoy how I’m spending my time and my life feels balanced. I am partnered with the love of my life and we enrich each other’s lives beyond measure. I could be in a house in the suburbs helping to raise our kids or gallivanting across the globe learning about different cultures. In either case happiness saturates our souls.

What a wonderful question. Thank you for asking. The goal is to not wait five years to make this my experience, but start living this now. If you get this…you get me.

Jason: The romantic bone in me sees my lil’ inner carpenter atop an old beat up estate home, fixing up my porous roof in hopes that when my dream girl’s car shows up in the driveway she’ll be impressed enough to throw me against a wall and kiss me and make me blueberry pancakes the next morning. (I’ll make the omelets.) I see myself beginning my own everlasting love story with a passion that has been set aside for my wife. If it doesn’t look exactly like The Notebook, that’s ok too—we’ll just write our own script.

The business bone in me sees Mat and myself touring around the country as successful author/filmmaker/speakers a la Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I know I speak for both of us when I say how rewarding it’s been for us to hear from our audience how deeply this message has impacted them. Whether it’s the film, the book, or our live presentations, people are responding with sincere gratitude for a new perspective, a new heart space, or a new mindset that will immediately strengthen their relationships…I couldn’t ask for much more than that.



Anonymous Reynold said...
So, I don't really believe it may have success.
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