Embracing the Unexpected with Matthew Stillman

Welcome to the ‘She Owns’ podcast, where our goal is to ignite the fire of inner strength and self-belief in women worldwide. I am your host, Amanda Krill. Today, we will be in conversation with Matthew Stillman, the thoughtful and compassionate creator of Primal Derma, a skincare product with ancestral roots.

Our discussion will revolve around notable subjects like self-worth, the impact of society, and the importance of community support, drawn from Matthew’s unique perspective. Additionally, we will gain insights from his journey of creating Primal Derma, powered by the intriguing story of tallow rendering that initially seemed gross and difficult yet turned out to be a beautiful expression of devotion to culture and beauty-making.

Hold onto your seats as our conversation takes unexpected, enlightening, and sometimes humorous turns, diving deep into societal norms, values, ancestral connections, the power of prayer, and the concept of culture. We will explore how these aspects intersect in our daily lives and in the choices we make.

Join us in this enriching dialogue, where we learn about the importance of openness to new perspectives, the strength in acknowledging failures, and the courage it takes to turn life’s lemons into a beauty-making lemonade.

Let’s start our journey into this thought-provoking episode of ‘She Owns Matthew Stillman’. Prepare to be inspired. Welcome aboard!

Matt’s been obsessed with how modern humans fit into an ancient world since, well, forever. That’s played out in everything from his time bringing shows highlighting the connection between food and culture to the Food Network as a programming executive to his work co-producing the Cannes-premiered, acclaimed documentary The End of Poverty? to the way he gets his groceries — always from farmers he has a personal relationship with — and now, Primal Derma; premium, hand rendered, expertly mixed traditional skincare, made on a human to human scale, delivered fresh from his home in Harlem to yours.

Amanda’s Note: Matthew is genuinely one of my favorite people. He is thoughtful, kind, compassionate and one of the most genuine people you can ever meet. 

The Transcripts

Amanda Krill [00:00:05]:

Hey there. This is Amanda from She Owns, and you’re listening to the she owns podcast, the show that helps you own your past, your present, and your future for people who want to live their lives in a more intentional way. Today we’re chatting with my good friend Matthew Stillman, the creator of Primal Derma, the best skincare product I’ve ever used. Seriously, I have multiple jars all over my house. He’s a brilliant, compassionate, clever guy, and he’s one of my favorite people to have crazy, deep conversations with. Let’s see where this goes. Thank you so much, Matthew, for being here with me. You are amazing.

Amanda Krill [00:00:41]:

You’re one of my favorite humans in the entire world, and I know every single person that I know that also knows you feels the same way. So thank you for taking the time to be here with me today.

Matthew Stillman [00:00:51]:

Pleasure. You matter. And the things you’ve been on for as long as I’ve known you have mattered, too.

Amanda Krill [00:00:56]:

Thank you. So, self worth. I’m sure that you have a lot to say about self worth and how people are viewing themselves and how I think that as long as I’ve known you, you are the person who is the most sure of themselves and unapologetic. Like, genuinely. I know you’re making a face right now. You don’t believe that, but that’s how you have always come across to me. You’re very sure of what you know and don’t know. You’re always open to other people’s opinions and thoughts.

Amanda Krill [00:01:30]:

And to me, it comes across as because you value yourself and you value everyone around you. So anyway, let’s just chat and talk about whatever.

Matthew Stillman [00:01:41]:

I’m not persuaded by the value of self worth.

Amanda Krill [00:01:47]:

Okay.

Matthew Stillman [00:01:48]:

Not that it’s not valuable, but I think that it’s like people who are saying, like, buy NFTs, slow your roll. Not to say that they couldn’t be valuable, but what are you actually trying to pitch with this? Not that makes me think that it’s a scam either. But in a time where if you came from a culture that was worth the name culture, the idea of self worth would have been a very distant one, because your sense of self worth would be generated and sustained and maintained, not by you and you believing in yourself, but by the fact that it was maintained and sustained by the people and the place around you. You’d be like, well, I come from this place which has been here for 10,000 years, or however long I’m sustained by this elder who believes. Like, if this elder believes in me, how could I not be of value. If this river is willing to give its water to me after I lay down all these prayers and it’s willing to feed me, how could I not be worthy? And so this networked sense of identity and value, I think, is more in the order of things. And that you can see why when people struggle so hard to do the hard work of self value, of self worth, understanding, and the work that goes into it, because you’re doing the work of, like, 50 people.

Amanda Krill [00:03:26]:

Right. I agree wholeheartedly, which is, like, not.

Matthew Stillman [00:03:32]:

A bad idea for worthiness to exist. But all the humility that comes with being on the receiving end of that, you have to get rid of the humility and basically take on the pride without any of the, oh, my God, this person thought this of me and this thing. And so there is a different sort of deeply knitness that comes when you’re on the receiving end of people believing in you, which allows you to proceed differently in the world, which doesn’t mean that you don’t have self worth. It just means that the direction that it comes is different, and you’re not doing the Herculean work of all that stuff and the exhaustion that comes along with it, which is why people find again and again, like, man, believing in yourself and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is bonkers. That’s my warm take on self worth.

Amanda Krill [00:04:27]:

And honestly, I think that’s one of the main reasons why I created this program that I did, so that we can do it as a community, believing in each other and believing in ourselves. Because, specifically, my experience is that my dad believed in me from the moment I was born, that I would be able to do whatever I wanted to, no questions asked. Like, he just absolutely believed I could do whatever I wanted, and it made me believe in myself. Like, completely believe in myself. He’s gone now, so I’m struggling with that a little bit. Like, there’s nobody left that actually just believes in me, regardless of anything.

Matthew Stillman [00:05:05]:

Let’s just talk about that for a second, though. And I’m glad that you received that, of course. And also, you didn’t just believe because he said it. You believed it because he showed up lots of other ways. Because if it was just as simple as just saying it, then people would be saying, like, oh, you’re held in the light, and you’re the best person to be, like, great, no problem, but evidenced by labor. But more than that, there probably were. He may have been like, the tip of the proverbial spear, but there may have been more. But of course, there’s this notion which is more mysterious.

Matthew Stillman [00:05:42]:

You can shrug your shoulders at it and not say, this is the way that it is. But there are some understandings of the world that say, of course, we weep properly when the people who have made us so are gone from this mortal plane and coil, but that it’s possible to call on their help from other places. And so there is a cascade of, again, people from real cultures around the world that have what we would call self worth because they call on the dead. They call on the ancestors. They know that the grass is where their ancestors are buried and that the deer that eat that grass feed on their ancestors. And so all that together, they’re like, oh, man, I’m being believed in now. And the fact that when I can see that where I make a fire is greener next year and that’s where my grandfather or grandmother was buried, that’s them speaking to me. Of course I weep for you.

Matthew Stillman [00:06:48]:

The fact that your father isn’t here long, I wish he was there for as long as you could have had him. But being open to those other ways of being informed and being in a relationship are worth having, too. I’m very glad that you’re creating a temporary little community toss, probably even more than a community, which is in no way an insult to what you’ve built. I know you have deep integrity and tremendous capacities, and these will be friends of the road. They’ll be like the people who you drove cross country with when you were in high school, who you were good to and good to with each other. But at the end of the trip, he’ll be like, we probably aren’t going to see each other again. We’ll always have good feelings for each other. That’s not a community, which is not an insult to it, but just there’s a limitedness to it.

Matthew Stillman [00:07:36]:

I would call that a community toss rather than a community because it’s online, which is not a problem, but just that I’m just aware about some of the limitations and the desire to feel like, oh, it’s forever, and we’re doing it, and we’re in the same tribe, and chill, slow your roll. We recognize the poverty by going at the appropriate speed of what’s actually happening as far as I’m concerned.

Amanda Krill [00:08:02]:

The thing I love about the group that I have right now is that most of these women I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve known you, and it’s like we just keep coming back to each other. So it’s been very wonderful. And speaking of the ancestor bit, I just visited Kentucky this weekend because know, trying to figure out what comes next after Carter graduates. And I don’t want to stay in Ohio. I want to go somewhere else. And so I’m trying to figure out where. And my mom’s entire family is from Kentucky, West Virginia. So I was visiting there, just kind of seeing if I like it there, et cetera, and trekked out to the middle of nowhere to a cemetery to find where my second great grandparents were buried.

Amanda Krill [00:08:43]:

And, yeah, just looking for her support more than anything of this is where I know that you are part of the reason I’m here, and thank you for my life, and I would love your support in the future.

Matthew Stillman [00:09:00]:

There’s no, no doubt that that woman whose name you never knew, whose face you never saw, prayed for you, she didn’t pray for Amanda Krill. She didn’t know your name, but she know. May it be that I have a great, great granddaughter, that they come into a world that looks in such a way, and long may they guarantee she shed tears more than once. Praying for you to be so in the world and to actually be on the receiving end of that is amazing. And I’m so glad to hear about people who are in the construct that you’ve built. Whether it’s called community or Communitas is neither here nor there. But so many people who are listening, it’s very easy to be like, well, I’ve joined a group. I’m doing it like chill.

Amanda Krill [00:09:46]:

Yeah.

Matthew Stillman [00:09:48]:

Which is not to say that it suddenly needs to be fixed, but just to be a little bit present to the poverty and that the hunger to feed it, to fix it, is its own thing to contend with.

Amanda Krill [00:10:00]:

Yeah. I find that one of the things that I’m struggling with the most is that I want to fix things for everybody. And I have had to come to the realization that it’s not my business to fix anybody if they’re happy where they are, and even if I think it’s crazy what they’re doing or living through, I’m sure people felt that way about the way that I was for a long time. So you can’t fix things for people. You can only offer them an olive branch, I guess, and be there when and if they decide to do it for themselves. Yeah. The one thing that I was going to say about the self worth thing, that I think women specifically in the Midwest, not just the Midwest, but very much so in the Midwest, are struggling with their self worth because they haven’t had a proper community around them as they’re growing up, like they have a community. But it’s not one that values them any more than being a help meat to some leader in the church or whatever.

Amanda Krill [00:11:01]:

I’ve been reading a book called Disobedient Woman, and it’s magnificent. It’s so good. But it also makes me very angry for all of the women who were basically told your only value is to have kids and raise them. And, you know, I grew up in a Christian home and whatever, but I didn’t really have that. I was raised more to be a strong, independent woman. But then when I come out into the time to get married or whatever, the people that are available to me or are part of the community that I’m in all were raised to think that all I’m good for is to be a wife and a mother, and that’s it. And luckily, I’m not in that health.

Matthew Stillman [00:11:40]:

Meat is such a great word. It’s like it’s so evocative of a particular flavor.

Amanda Krill [00:11:47]:

That’s what the word that she uses in the book a because, you know, that’s exactly what we’re told. That’s all you’re good for, is this. You are under your husband, who is underneath Christ, who is underneath God, and this is all you are here for.

Matthew Stillman [00:12:00]:

Genesis stuff.

Amanda Krill [00:12:01]:

Yeah.

Matthew Stillman [00:12:02]:

Help me then, to Adam.

Amanda Krill [00:12:03]:

But it’s left a whole bunch of women with the lack of I’m not good for anything except these things. So that’s one of the reasons why I picked out self worth was that because I don’t think that we have not been taught that we are worthy simply because the river gives us water. And all of those things. I read braiding Sweetgrass, which is part of where all of this came, and.

Matthew Stillman [00:12:28]:

Braiding sweetgrass, which I love. Not no one. That’s not true. But less people are excited about gathering Moss, which I think is a superior book by Robin Wall Kimmer.

Amanda Krill [00:12:38]:

I just got that one. I haven’t started it yet, but it’s coming very soon.

Matthew Stillman [00:12:43]:

I ban makes me swoon. It’s so like, I know why people like breeding sweetgrass, but for me, gathering Moss, that’s the jam tonight, then.

Amanda Krill [00:12:57]:

So another thing that we’re going to be focusing on this next month is owning your failures. And I know that you have lived a whole life, and you have done lots of things, some of which have been failures. But how do you view those failures? I’m assuming that they were just things that you learned from and moved on. But I want to hear you say how you handle those things and whatnot.

Matthew Stillman [00:13:24]:

Was it a failure that I got fired from Food Network, which is an amazing job. Yeah, in some ways. Then I got fired for my own selfishness and foolishness, but not only that, but also that. Was it a failure that my marriage of 13 years, which meant everything to me, ended in one way, not another? Was it a failure that ideas for partnerships, Sort of. That I put a tremendous amount of work into, got a little bit down the way after spending time and energy and went nowhere? Are those failures? I mean, yes and no. So of course, there’s plenty of. You can sort of be preternaturally wise, like, oh, yes. Well, I’ve learned over time that these things were never failures and everything in scale and have a distant view and a long view and whatever, but I have grieved over some of those things and wept tears, bitter tears over some of those things.

Matthew Stillman [00:14:31]:

And properly, I guess I would also say that my willingness to not let things that have transpired in the past be the final version of what it meant. Not to say I’ve done this universally or do this well, or all the time, that this is like, I’ve got the code cracked on this. Guys, listen to me and my amazing counsel on the matter. But it’s very easy, just as an example, to say that there’s a particular core story from your youth that means something to you, that says, this is part of the way that I am and the way that I see things, which is not wrong, but do you have the capacity to have, not to force a new understanding, but allow for new possibilities to emerge, like, oh, wow, I never realized that this story also meant this. And to have that soft enough boundary to be delighted by, oh, wow, that’s possible too, because when you make it so that it always means this, then there’s no possibility for New Horizons. You can never actually meet the horizon. You can only go, and the horizon is just a limit of your view, and that goes forward as well as backwards. And so can you meet these things and be willing to circle around it differently so that, oh, wow, it doesn’t always mean just this.

Matthew Stillman [00:16:06]:

So like what you just said about being raised to be a help me. I mean, 100%. And the way that’s impacted you 100%. And may it be that there comes a time where you can come to look at that from 04:00 as opposed to 12:00 and be like, I never even thought to look at it from this perspective, and now I see it differently and I’m still including the way that my original understanding. But that capacity for things to have more than what you originally thought allows them to be recontextualized. And it allows things that became ossified and hard and not food to be turned into something that actually might be digestible. And that’s what the work of culture, it takes the things that are the most impossible and undigestible and finds a way of making them something that is nourishing.

Amanda Krill [00:17:09]:

I love talking to you. Everything. You just always take everything and turn it into the most beautiful thing. Yeah, I think that I love the shift, and I definitely am not there yet with the whole help meat conversation, with being able to look at it from a different perspective. But I’m sure at some point I will be. At some point I will be.

Matthew Stillman [00:17:32]:

You may be, but you can’t go looking for it. You have to be surprised. You have to be open to being surprised, as opposed to prepare yourself against surprise. To be like, I need to be in control of all this means that you actually never have a chance to learn something except for what you’ve determined you’re going to learn. So again, that’s not a problem. That might be a point of safety for a long time in a completely reasonable place. But ultimately, to be prepared for surprise is to be educated, and to be prepared against surprise is to just to be, like, schooled, which, again, is not a problem, but just to see there’s a relationship between them. This is an example I’ll just use.

Matthew Stillman [00:18:25]:

Not because it’s, like, the best example, just because it’s an example, but let’s say that lots of people are lactose intolerant, right? You’re like, what the hell is he talking about? Wait, I’m waiting.

Amanda Krill [00:18:40]:

I know. I’ve known you long enough to know, I know. Going somewhere.

Matthew Stillman [00:18:45]:

But lots of people who are lactose intolerant can eat particular types of cheese. Why? Well, because the food has been cultured. They’ve taken this population of bacteria that can do what humans cannot. There’s bajillions of little things that are loaded into it, and the origin of that is its own interesting thing, which eat the undigestible part that humans often struggle with and turn it into something that is a new thing that doesn’t have this other stuff in it. You could never sift out the problematic part, quote unquote in milk, the lactose, you can only digest it out. Well, how do you do that? By doing this thing. And then there’s one of my three favorite food quotes, and I have three favorite food quotes. Is that amazing? Is cheese.

Matthew Stillman [00:19:41]:

Is milk’s leap towards immortality? It’s not actually immortality, but it’s towards immortality. And so the culturing work of putting this bacteria in, takes that which is undigestible, turns it into food, and turns it into a new substance that has a chance of lasting longer. And that itself is a tradition. So culture is not a way of being. It’s a way of practicing. And there’s, of course, great traditions all over the world of cheesemaking, which are the embodiment of a culture’s understanding of their relationship to the herd, to the land, to the seasons, to who they are. I’m so down with that. So that’s an example.

Matthew Stillman [00:20:24]:

So what cultural skills do you have that do the work of taking that which is undigestible and making something that shows up for who you are and making that thing digestible, and that shows up in grief practices, that shows up in initiatory practices, all sorts of things. But it brings you more into that sense of self worth, because the self worth is not established by you, but it’s by the network. It’s not one person who could culture milk. It takes billions of the little bacteria.

Amanda Krill [00:20:54]:

To do the work writing this down because I’m going to forget it later, even though I have the audio. But I just want to write it down right now. I know, but I just want to write it down right now. Okay. Every time I talk to you, it’s like the conversation goes places I never would have expected it to go. But it’s so great. So thanks again for being here.

Matthew Stillman [00:21:17]:

My other two favorite food quotes are this just while we’re.

Amanda Krill [00:21:20]:

No, I have to know what they are. Yes.

Matthew Stillman [00:21:22]:

Okay, so that’s the first one. Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality. Second one is from a French gastronomphilosopher named Riat Savaram, who says, tell me what and how you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are. Come on. And then the last one is from this British preacher who I forget his name, but it’s from the 17 hundreds. And he says, no doubt God could have made a finer and more delicious berry than a strawberry, but there is no doubt that he didn’t.

Amanda Krill [00:21:55]:

It does. Dick, I think you’re the only person alive that I know that has three favorite food quotes. But they’re all good.

Matthew Stillman [00:22:03]:

I could probably think of other ones, but those are my three favorites. Actually, I have a fourth one just to throw it in there, the way that you make a small fortune in the food and wine industry is, to start with, a large fortune.

Amanda Krill [00:22:18]:

Yeah, that would be accurate. Yeah.

Matthew Stillman [00:22:24]:

My friend Kevin’s Raleigh told me that one.

Amanda Krill [00:22:27]:

That’s funny. So what else are we going to talk about? So the other topic. So we talk about failures and self worth a little bit. Values. Something that I did not think of until a few years ago when I was on a call with my friend Jacqueline. She invited me to be on this call that her friend was doing, and she was, like, helping people identify their values. And it was not something that I had ever consciously thought of before, like, what are my values? And where am I living outside of my values? And she had us do a little exercise, and it turned out that my number one value is freedom, which, when I think about it, makes complete sense, but it’s not something that I had ever processed before. And then when I think of every decision that I make, if I run it through that litmus test of is it going to impede my freedom? And if it is, then it’s a hard no for me.

Amanda Krill [00:23:23]:

That’s why I don’t get a real job, because I would have to wear dress clothes and get up at the same time every day. And how could I ever do that? What do you think happens when people aren’t living within their values? What are the consequences of that? That’s what I want to ask you.

Matthew Stillman [00:23:47]:

Um, I talk about this first through the lens of health as opposed to values.

Amanda Krill [00:24:06]:

Okay.

Matthew Stillman [00:24:09]:

That the measure of your own health is not just your own, but by the health of that which gives you health in life. So how healthy could you be if the place that you live is sick and fetted? If the people who support you are falling apart at the seams and don’t have access to X, Y and Z? This is a bit of a theme that you’ll see, but your values are not your own. Your values, of course, are important to know and know something about, but they also are life giving to the people and the non people around you, to the people in the place around you. Do they feed that? Can you call out to the whole divine night for what you love and what you stand for and then earn your name? Be kind and wild and disciplined, but also absolutely generous. And this is the astonishing business of beauty making, as well as maybe the only possibility for something that looks like a victory. Jingai, we’ve glimpsed Hell’s chambers, and the fact is that most real, honest, initiatory work is simply just to bear it. Take it, walk through hell. I mean, really, that’s what most of it’s about that’s where these taxing, elaborate rituals and three day stories come from.

Matthew Stillman [00:25:45]:

So we’re in it right now. When horror sweeps all the world with souping, we sometimes risk it by cutting the cords to our deeper, more soulful values and the restorative ones who live there. I can say more about that, but it is the practice of our values, as opposed to just having them, that is the life affirmingness of them. And that it can’t only be for you. You are absolutely included. You matter. Of course, of course. But also, how do your value impact that which is life giving around you? Not that we need to in any way talk about primal, dermalized skincare company, but we do.

Amanda Krill [00:26:45]:

But go on.

Matthew Stillman [00:26:46]:

But I would just say, like, animals need to die for me to make this skincare. I’m not unaware of that. I don’t want to gloss over that. I don’t want to center or decenter that. But there was a time where there was an understanding in the culture that the health of the herd, the health of the land, and the health of people was bound up together. And part of what maintains the health of the herd is the wolf. And if we take away the wolf by penning up cows or shooting wolves, someone has to take the place of being the wolf. Now, that’s not an invitation to willy nilly kill stuff, but is it possible that part of your values could be, I need to eat.

Matthew Stillman [00:27:45]:

The herd needs to go on, the land needs to be fed. How does freedom line up with that? It can absolutely line up with that, and there’s nothing wrong with freedom as a value, but how do you find the mycelial ways that that needs to be practiced so it doesn’t feed only you, but also you. And that’s culture work. It’s a thing to wonder about. And you also can’t get so lost in trying to pre figure out every single way of this is going to try to get it right ahead of time. This goes to the failure, like being willing to fail, interestingly, is part of the work. Totally normal conversation?

Amanda Krill [00:28:30]:

No. Yeah. I mean, with you, this is a totally normal conversation. 100%. Okay, back to what you said about the health of the herd and the health of the land and all of those things. When did we stop valuing that as a society? And how do we get back to that?

Matthew Stillman [00:28:49]:

There’s no back to get to.

Amanda Krill [00:28:51]:

Okay.

Matthew Stillman [00:28:53]:

And the idea that we need to find out the particular moment is a very Western literate, Protestant in particular, but Christian in general. Way of, like, what was the origins of things? When did sin begin? Right? I mean, that’s asking, and how do we redeem ourselves? What’s the natural version of Jesus Christ that can fix this for us? When you say it that way, you’re like, I just see what I did there. But that’s.

Amanda Krill [00:29:26]:

Yeah, yeah.

Matthew Stillman [00:29:27]:

Again, no crime. But just to see, like, there are stowaways, even if you reject the thing. Like, new boss is sometimes the same as the old boss.

Amanda Krill [00:29:35]:

I’m very actively trying to deconstruct a whole lot of things, so I will always resort back to that way of thinking, but I’m also actively trying to not to. So thank you for pointing that out.

Matthew Stillman [00:29:48]:

Yeah, again, no crime. It’s in there, and it’s just worth lifting up. It had lots of beginnings. It’s very easy to say agriculture. It’s very easy to say the Industrial Revolution. It’s very easy to say the establishment of the city state. You could also say the domestication of fire. You could say alphabetic literacy.

Matthew Stillman [00:30:08]:

All those things are important in understanding. And there isn’t one beginning, again, to sort of reference the Bible. And it says in the beginning, but that’s actually not accurate because it’s more in the beginning. There are so many beginnings. So how do we get back to. Again, it’s sort of having this linear theory of time that says, well, if we get back to that, if we just eat paleo, then we just live in with 150 people, with a Dunbar number, and all live in a yurt, and I’m knitting socks, and you’re killing loose, then everything’s perfect, right? There’s nothing else to know except and be skillful that way. My son’s really good at working with wood, and he knows how to sharpen an axe. So that’s going to work.

Matthew Stillman [00:30:54]:

Absolutely. Kill culture making is work, and it is practice, and it is learning, and it is having the willingness to fail, interestingly, the willingness to change the rules, when you see that compromise is seriously happening, when one person is going to win at the expense of others, not say that some sort of communist ideal like, hey, man, there’s no such thing as winning. It’s holding all that stuff lightly. So I get the intention behind what you’re asking, but what you’re saying is, let’s bypass the heartbreak and the grief of actually where we are, which is a completely understandable response. But I think part of contending with that very question, which is an honorable one at its heart, is, how do I skillfully contend with grief and the poverty of my times and not knowing how I got here. And I don’t even know that there is an us that I could even talk about who I’m associated with.

Amanda Krill [00:32:09]:

And somebody just said this to me today, that my mo is that I start making new things or get real busy so I don’t have to handle the emotions and the grief and the other things of whatever it is I’m going through. AND IT IS EXTREMELY AcCURATE. I DO DO EXACTlY THAt. I think you probably are aware, but, yeah, so I struggle with that, just being present and just feeling it. SO OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE GOING THROuGH A Big THING RIGHT NOW. So how do you do that? How do you just not get busy to distract yourself? BECAUSe I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THAt.

Matthew Stillman [00:32:48]:

You have to have started this years ago, and the best time to have planted a tree is 100 years ago.

Amanda Krill [00:32:57]:

But I didn’t, so I have to figure it out now.

Matthew Stillman [00:33:01]:

ThE NExT BEST TimE Is 20 YEARs ago. The next best time is yesterday, and the next best time is today. And in the meanwhile, start to cultivate enough of an ear and an eye to find the trees that do exist that people were lucky enough to plant and see if you can approach it with any sort of skill or any sort of grace and say, would you mind if I stood here for a while? SO, PRAcTICING THE THINGS THAT START TO CULTIVATE SLOWNESS, THEY START TO CULTIVATE AN EAR. Start to cultivate an eye. HERE’S ANOTHER BORING EXAMPLE. Maybe this was seven or eight years ago, but about that doesn’t matter. I visited dear friends in Maine and we were going in the fall and we were going to go black trumpet mushroom hunting, which I’d never done, but I’m a weirdo who’s sort of into that sort of thing. AND THAT’S WHY THEY BROUGHT ME.

Matthew Stillman [00:34:06]:

AND I WAS LIKE, THIS SOUNDS GREAT. We were still like, here’s what a black trumpet mushroom looks like. AND HERE’S WHERE THEY BROADLY ARE. HERE’S THE BASKET. Go CRAZY. I COULD NOT FIND A FUCKING BLACK TRUMPET MUSHROOM. FOR THE LIFE OF ME. I COULD BE THIS CLOSE AND BE LIKE, I DON’T SEE IT.

Matthew Stillman [00:34:25]:

I DON’T SEE IT AT ALL NOW. OF COURSE, I HAD MOMENTS OF LIKE, HOW IS EVERYONE FINDING BLACK TRUMPET MUSHROOMS? And I had to learn to sort of soften my gaze and sort of see something that was not a black trumpet mushroom, but sort of like a disturbance in the field or something that was vaguely the shape of. And I started finding them. And then I wouldn’t say that I got good at it. But I got so much better at it that I started taking too much. And the person who was leading us is like, hey, you don’t take every mushroom. And I didn’t personally damage that field, but just to say, you have to leave some for there too, which he didn’t say ahead of time. This was all part of the learning.

Matthew Stillman [00:35:11]:

I didn’t feel castigated. Again, I didn’t leave some gaping psychic or physical wound in the hills of mid Coast Maine. But I learned something. So there’s a strong sense of, like, how do we do it? How do we fix it? Let’s get off the list so we can be maximally efficient and get on to not feeling all the heartbreak of this. As opposed to how do we proceed slowly, take a little bit less, offer things along the way, and have beauty making as one of our responses to the time that we’re in, and beauty making won’t save us. But, man, if you don’t have access to beauty making and eloquence in the time from the TARDIS, when the fuck else is it for? And so the articulateness of the thumb and the forefinger is one way people have responded to slow and to make beauty, but also articulateness of the tongue is another. And I would make a case that there’s a strong relationship between the thumb, tongue and beauty making. That’s not the only way.

Matthew Stillman [00:36:21]:

And so there’s some learning to do. And so it’s not like an automatic fix to say, like, but I understand the response, and you certainly saw this ten years ago, like, eat what your great grandparents ate. That’s what’s healthy for you. Or do the grief practice or the cultural practice of wherever you’re from and you’re from Lithuania, then it’s Lithuanian. And it’s that simple. It could be that, as opposed to being willing to know something about, man, what’s the shape of the beginnings of the poverty of the time that I’m in, and to do some of the learning and to approach slowly. There’s a reason why so many people who live by rivers loathe people who ride jet skis up and down them or on lakes. Not because they’re loud and annoying.

Matthew Stillman [00:37:10]:

And the people who ride them are often douches, which is all true, totally true. But because even though the jet ski never actually touches the banks at all, it’s the wake that they make that touch the. The banks that degrade the sides of the. Of the river banks.

Amanda Krill [00:37:38]:

Yeah, actively.

Matthew Stillman [00:37:39]:

Yeah, actively. And it’s the manner of approach because if you’re in the water and you’re going 45 miles an hour, those sloshes are the things that undo it, even though they never actually touch it. And so when you’re in the water, the wake gets there long before you ever do, if you ever did it. So that your manner of approach matters. It doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as speed, or there shouldn’t be, but just to be aware of, like, oh, this is part of the consequence. And so part of going fast is, how do I feed the place more if speed needs to be a part of the consequence of the way that I go, which is, okay, being aware of those things, and that’s just an example with rippers. But you can imagine there’s other ways to imagine that. And it doesn’t mean automatically, just going slow means that it’s better, but that’s something just to be aware of.

Amanda Krill [00:38:40]:

Yeah, no, that’s really important for me to remember because getting there fast is always better, in my opinion. But I don’t think about the weight that I’m leaving behind and any damage that I’m doing.

Matthew Stillman [00:38:54]:

Forget about behind in front. Get there before you do. And just as an example of that, another one, a heartbreaking one. It’s a very clear one, I think. How many people do you know who jet off to Costa Rica or Peru to gobble ayahuasca to get personal redemption and spiritual freedom and which, without recognizing anything about their poverty beyond the fact, like, it sucks for me, which I get, and why you’d want to be free. But she used some sort of indigenous people’s cultural understanding of their being in the world. But you going there is the wake that gets there long before you do. The hotels, the roads, the people who are over there, who are poor, who are like, man, this is just sort of.

Matthew Stillman [00:39:49]:

I suddenly have a chance now I get to sort of prey on hungry white people, and they’re sort of forced into it. Like all that’s the wake. And there’s lots to say about that particular thing. It’s not to pick on Ayahuasca or white people going down there or all the reasons you might go. That’s not the thing. Consider the consequence of speed and how much harder it is to maintain culture and do culture work when you’re going fast only, and not doing the reparative, restorative work of feeding a place, too. Which, again, I want to be very clear. I’m not saying that should never be done, but that part is often not considered right.

Amanda Krill [00:40:36]:

Just like, digesting everything you just said.

Matthew Stillman [00:40:39]:

Yeah.

Amanda Krill [00:40:39]:

Gosh, you’re so insightful in every way. So I do want to talk about Primal Derma, because I think it’s important. So tell me, how did you even start the company? I kind of know the answer, but tell me anyway. How did you start the company? Why did you start this specific skincare stuff? Why? Just tell me the story.

Matthew Stillman [00:41:03]:

I was an early adopter of being influenced by what I’d say, paleo style eating. I was like, yeah, there’s something to this, and I want to learn about it. And thought that was cool. I was an early adopter of CrossFit, which sort of had a similar thing, like, hey, be a generalist. And we used to do these broad. And so ancestral things were interesting to me, as well as ancestral approaches to knowledge and being in the world. All those things sort of fit. I read an article in a weirdo obscure magazine about aloe based skin care and its particular history in Mexico, though there’s lots of history around the world, but the Mexican one, and it hit me right in my sweet spot.

Matthew Stillman [00:41:45]:

It was about culture, it was about anthropology, it was about history, had some chemistry, and while sort of broadly, that animal fat had been used as skincare, I didn’t know particularly about the Mexican one. And this is great. And at the end of the article, there was a recipe which I had never considered making skincare in my life. Sounds sort of fun. I’m going to make some Taliban skincare of the Mexican variety. And cool. So I went to a farmer who I knew how to pick up the farmers market. I happened to have had bought beef from him a number of times.

Matthew Stillman [00:42:28]:

I’d been to his farm. I knew this guy did everything the way you’d want about growing things in the ecologically wise but economically hard way, because he thought it mattered. It’s not in the world, but just that it mattered to try to do it this way. And it was his way of giving back and tending the best that he could and trying to deal with the psychic cost of making the world a little bit better or different or something, doing it better than he found it. And I said, hey, Keith, good to see you. Wondering if you have any tallow. He said, so funny you asked me, I do happen to have some tallow, but I need to get rid of it because of FDA Regs. By the end of the week, I need to throw away or burn it or use it myself.

Matthew Stillman [00:43:11]:

Of course you have to throw it away. Or burger. He’s like, oh, yeah, this is just FDA regs. But he said, all the farmers who do what I do, we still collect it, but mostly we have to throw it away. In the end, we bury it or burn it because people are freaked out by it, but we still do it because we know how valuable it is and how good it is, of course. And I was like, oh, yeah, candles and all that stuff. And he’s like, yeah. And I said, okay, well, I’d love to get some.

Matthew Stillman [00:43:42]:

And he says, how much is it? And he said, how much it was? He says, but I’ll give you a deal if you take all of it. I said, well, how much is all of it? I got 100 pounds. I said, well, I only need five. He said, well, take the price I’ll give you. And I don’t remember the exact price, but I think five pounds was going to be something like $20 or $25. But if I took all of it, it was going to be like $75. And I was like, all right, I’ll take all of it. I can’t bear this being thrown away and not being used.

Matthew Stillman [00:44:18]:

And I didn’t know what that actually meant to have 100 pounds of tallow. Maybe it was $120. Like, whatever it was, it was like such a deal that I was like, I’ll take ten. I took a shopping bags full of tallow on the subway all the way back home to Harlem. It was a long ride. It was a ridiculous. And I had space for 100 pounds of tallow because I bought lots of meat at once. And I rendered my first tallow partially by instinct, partially by reading about it, and partially by watching some YouTube videos and sort of, like, figured it out.

Matthew Stillman [00:44:58]:

I made the recipe as it was said in the article, and it was so fucking gross. I couldn’t believe how gross it was. And it was hard to make in terms of rendering. And I just didn’t know what that took, but it took time and effort and mess and all that stuff. And I had to contend with, like, oh, wow, there’s leftovers. Like, what do I do with these? Do I just throw that away? What do I do with that? Was it the best way to respond? I don’t know, but I was suddenly saw like, oh, man, a lot to this, but I still had, like, 95 pounds of tallow left. And so I was like, I got to figure this out, at least. And so I played with it more and figured out and got better and found a type of response to do with what I do with all the quote unquote leftovers and the waste quote unquote products, what to do with those? I had some kind of a response to that, but I started to see the cost, and I got to a point where I sort of, like, I liked it.

Matthew Stillman [00:46:02]:

And so I hadn’t knew all these crossfit people. I gave a bunch away. I sold a bunch just to friends, and everyone said, like, this is really great, we love the story and it works. You should go into business, and maybe I should. And I’d never done anything like it at all. I’d never made a physical product. The things that I’d done up to that point were really just sort of trafficking in me being an interesting person or having interesting perspectives or just straight up creativity in the sense that I used to be a TV executive and I made a freelance film, and so I did freelance TV work and stuff like that. Maybe I’ll give this a whirl.

Matthew Stillman [00:46:45]:

And a dear friend who started to become a partner with me, but she ended up dropping out for health reasons of her husband almost as we launched the company. So all the money and expertise that she was going to bring just dropped out immediately. So that was kind of a quote unquote, failure. But I suddenly had to take on things which I wasn’t capable of doing. But that’s how I got into the business. But I saw very quickly that this is an expression of my devotion to culture making, my devotion to beauty making, and being aware of some of the consequences of the way that we perceive. And it’s not better. There’s space for lots of different ways, although it’s a perfectly good product, but it is my expression of culture making.

Matthew Stillman [00:47:35]:

And I write about. I don’t give you, like, a top ten skin. I write about culture every week to my newsletter about people who are lost, folk pathways and stories and things about endings, and how the unseen animal world underlies our capacity to go on in beauty making. And I think all these things sort of tie together. But there’s my story jar sitting right.

Amanda Krill [00:48:00]:

Here on my desk. So I have one here, one in the bathroom, one upstairs. I’ve got them everywhere. It is a quality product. And I will say, as I do every conversation in which your name comes up, that if somebody who is listening is not currently on your email newsletter, they need to get on it, because it is the only newsletter that I read every single time it goes out. So thank you for what you’re putting out in the world, because it’s excellent. And I also want to say thank you for your attention to things that are ancestral and becoming lost and the fact that you are bringing light to them and that they aren’t going to get lost completely just because of the efforts that you’re putting into it. Thank you.

Amanda Krill [00:48:43]:

Where I live is Northwest Ohio, and it’s very monoculture here. Like, currently where I live. I’m in my house right now, and across the street is a field of soybeans. Behind my house is a field of corn. Next to the house is another field of corN. Over here is another field of corn. So it’s like, that is it. This is the only thing that is grown here.

Amanda Krill [00:49:04]:

And I think that me living here for 20 some years has been simply for me to learn that monoculture is not the way to do things. And that they literally raped this land. And it was a swamp. It was called the Great Black Swamp. They drained it and turned it into farmland. And now half the people here, I mean, it really fits with the attitudes of the people that live here, with few exceptions. One of my daughter’s best friend’s father is a farmer, and he’s trying to do things more the old way, and he has reinstated a swamp. Like, he’s let it grow, come back, and he’s just trying to do it the right way.

Amanda Krill [00:49:50]:

But it’s really everything about this area, it all fits together. And I think I had to learn the lesson, and now I’m ready to move on.

Matthew Stillman [00:50:03]:

I would add something to that. It’s easy to demonize monoculture as wrong, and there’s a high cost to monoculture. And to suddenly gear shift from fifth gear to first gear can fuck things up, too. Downshift. It’s very easy to be like, let nature do its thing, right? But it’s possible to be in relationship. But if you don’t know anything about going at a slower speed, you can’t just suddenly just stomp on the brakes and do it otherwise. But there is absolutely a problem with monoculture, particularly with monoculture trying to try to extend itself. And of course, this looks like colonialism.

Matthew Stillman [00:50:50]:

This looks like cultural domination. This looks like all sorts of things, right? But one of my favorite true stories really happened was Soviet scientists in the 50s trying to figure out how resilientologies could be to nuclear waste. And this study is so Russian, I could find the reference to it somewhere. But here’s what they did. They took, I don’t remember the exact amount, but something like a kilogram of radioactive caesium and spread it over, let’s just say an acre. And on the acre, they had one thing that was growing on it, I think it was grass. And they wanted. And they said, igor, how much will live? And so they did it.

Matthew Stillman [00:51:38]:

They spread it over and everything died. So, same experiment again, a different acre. They planted two things. I think it was like grass and clover. And they took the same 1 radioactive caesium, which tells them how much radioactive caesium they had sitting around. But they were really thinking, like, we have so much nuclear warhead sitting. And they kept on just killing the soil again and again and again in different places in quote unquote, the middles of nowhere, which weren’t the middle of nowhere, right. They were a place.

Matthew Stillman [00:52:14]:

But finally when it got to that, there was a certain amount of diversity in the space that there were. I don’t remember the number, but like 25 things that were growing and bunnies and mushrooms and a river that ran through it. And whatever it was, there started to be enough diversity that it could absorb the shock of the things that are happening. It didn’t mean that everything was great. It just meant not everything is dying right away.

Amanda Krill [00:52:43]:

Right.

Matthew Stillman [00:52:44]:

So this isn’t justice. You obviously want to reduce the input of horrible poisons. Totally. And it’s not just to say, like, hey, have a diverse ecology and we can do whatever the fuck we want. No, that’s not either. But just to say that unsought mysteries occur and having deep ecologies allows something of the capacity to do that digestion that we were talking about earlier. Something in there.

Amanda Krill [00:53:11]:

Yeah. You’re brilliant. That’s all I can say. You are a brilliant person, and I appreciate that I get to have the chance to talk to you.

Matthew Stillman [00:53:22]:

Yeah, we don’t speak enough, but I’m glad to have this chance now.

Amanda Krill [00:53:26]:

Yeah, me too. Do you want to tell them your website and whatnot? And then I will stop the recording.

Matthew Stillman [00:53:36]:

Yeah. Primal Derma is where I. The word primal and the word derma together.com is where I do my skincare thing. And you can sign up for the newsletter if you want to sign up there. People sometimes hire me to help them look at things creatively or differently. And that’s Stillmanses.com. You can sign up for the newsletter there, but I don’t send anything from there. But other things that I might do are there too.

Matthew Stillman [00:54:03]:

Yeah, you’re better off just signing up for my newsletter at Primal Derma. But if you want to see other stuff that I do, Stillman says. I mean, look, I’ve got a body work website. I’ve got other things that I do. You know, I teach poetry and memorization and recitation classes, but I talk about that through primoderma because beauty making, that’s related. So I do lots of weird stuff.

Amanda Krill [00:54:24]:

You don’t do lots of weird stuff. You do lots of cool stuff. And it all fits together in a way.

Matthew Stillman [00:54:30]:

It does fit together, but it is weird. No problem with weird.

Amanda Krill [00:54:33]:

But just, yeah, all right. I love all of it. And thank you again. Thank you for listening to the she Owns podcast. If you’re interested in learning more about what she owns is all about head over to sheowns.org. Whether you’re needing support around your business or your life, we’ve got you covered. Our all in one business suite gives you all the tools you need to run an online business. And she owns her life is a year long program aligned to the seasons to help us return to a natural rhythm, reclaim our wild power by rediscovering who we are and relearn how to be our strong, independent selves in a world that wants us to conform.

Amanda Krill [00:55:11]:

Head over to Sheowns.org and learn more.

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