True Stories: How My Wife is My Wayne Gretzky by Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith on his wife, daughter, and having the record for assists in a marriage.

by Kevin Smith

By the time I’d met Jen Schwalbach, I’d committed my life to film, much in the same way the clergy commit their lives to Christ. But Jesus requires a leap of faith in Him; film would require a leap of faith in me. Making movies was all I wanted to do, so I organized my life around cinema. If folks wanted to share time with me or be in my world, they had to understand that film would always be my first love. When I met Jen, I was in pre- production on Dogma and well established in the indie film pantheon as the guy who shot onto the scene with Clerks, stumbled at the box office with Mallrats, and took a huge jump with the truly indie Chasing Amy — a film about male sexual insecurity and the nature of love. I’d soared and sunk and come back from the brink of irrelevancy, going from overnight sensation to indie whipping boy to drunken master — a cycle that would repeat every few years for the rest of my life in film. I was entrenched in movies and nothing was gonna get me out of them.

Jennifer made the most noble and unthinkable sacrifice for the greater good.

Jennifer Schwalbach was a journalist at the biggest newspaper in the world. She’d just gotten her own byline when we were thrown together for the Good Will Hunting spinterview. She was going places... until we fell in love. And in order to give us half a shot at making it as a couple, Jennifer made the most noble and unthinkable sacrifice for the greater good. She quit her job.

In fact, Jen quit two jobs for me and my world. First, she left USA Today, moving east to be closer to me. She’d landed a gig at MTV in New York City and was making excellent progress when the Kevin Smith Effect would knock her even further off her own path: Jen got pregnant with Harley. Soon, the MTV gig would be sacrificed at the altar of our relationship — the altar she built and maintained because I was too busy making dopey movies back in Jersey. Just like me, Jennifer Schwalbach had ambitions and dreams of accomplishments that would make her parents proud. Unlike me, Jennifer Schwalbach was willing to chuck it all for something profoundly more rewarding.

That’s some tough shit right there: knowing you destroyed the life of the only person you’d take a bullet for. Jenny Schwalbach’s potential was hampered and hindered because she fell in love with the wrong guy — one of those fucking filmmakers who thinks solely about himself and his work, who plays for a living and makes pretend for money. The portrait of the artist as a young man slowly devolves into the depiction of a self- involved paid liar with a half- lived life— more make- believe than reality. I would have been alone in that life — perhaps lost in my art eventually — because film is a siren that calls you to her jagged rocks to pick your bones clean, then lies in wait for another hapless dreamer to sail by. You give yourself to something old and massive that promises immortality but instead uses you up and moves on. But we don’t ever bitch: the life of an artist is vibrant, electric, and fulfilling... until it’s not anymore. And after decades spent pursuing something with all the passion and purpose of Odysseus, to paraphrase Conan the Barbarian’s King Osric, “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a guy’s love for the chick he initially believed was a hooker paid for by Chris Rock.”

For years, I thought I was doing the important work, but movies are just smoke and mirrors and shadows and fog. Telling the lie that tells the truth doesn’t take courage so much as it takes a willingness to lay down your life in service of making shit up. In that, it’s no different from child’s play: filmmakers fill their time with empty celluloid distractions, maintaining each is an important pursuit with all the passion and vehemence kids display when they frolic in lands of make- believe on a playground, in a schoolyard, or in their bedrooms. It’s the epic diversion from the all-encompassing truth that one day very soon, we will cease to be.

In the time since I met Jennifer Schwalbach, I made some dippy flicks a few people liked. In the same time, however, Jennifer did so much more: she built a life with a family she’s personally responsible for bringing together. She built a home for the people she loves most dearly in this world, where they can feel safe, dream their dreams, and be productive. And most important, Jen built and maintains an entire human being.

Like most kids her age, Harley’s a dreamer. What sets her apart, however, is that she takes her dreams to fruition. Some leaders display the kinds of take- charge qualities that are more easily identifiable, but the leaders like Harley—  whose passion is infectious enough to create something out of nothing — lead by inspiration. And behind all the passion beats the heart of a true humanist... as well as a humorist: she’s funny — and not in that cloying manner like some kids can be. Her humor’s warm, inclusive, and friendly. In that respect, Harley’s who I’d most like to be when I grow up. And that was all Jen. I donated a teaspoon full of what was hopefully the best parts of me, but Jen knew that in order to make a whole person, more time needed to be donated than the five minutes it might’ve taken me to muster the building blocks of Harley. Jen knew it was going to take sacrifice, and since my head was way up my own ass about movies, she knew in order to will this family into existence, she’d have to be the one to give things up, and maybe even give herself entirely.

Commentarium (37 Comments)

Mar 20 12 - 12:19am
ibg

somehow, after reading this, I am still unclear on what it is about.

Mar 20 12 - 1:07am
AlexT

It's about this:

Ladies, be careful who you give up your livelihoods for. You could be really going places in your career, only to throw in the towel for the guy who wrote Jay and Silent Bob Ran Out of Ideas VI. And after 14 years, his ode to your sacrifice is a Nerve column comparing you to Wayne Gretsky.

Mar 20 12 - 1:11am
AlexT

And even this column originally appeared in print first. Kevin Smith recycles more than Al Gore.

Mar 21 12 - 11:32am
M

This column is actually an excerpt from his book that came out yesterday, the day the column ran, so Kevin "recycled" material most people hadn't read yet. The gall of him!

Mar 20 12 - 7:22am
Saratoga Slim

I only clicked on this article to write "Kevin Smith, please go away! You're the film world's Nickelback."

Mar 20 12 - 8:03am
bleh

" I donated a teaspoon full of what was hopefully the best parts of me, but Jen knew that in order to make a whole person, more time needed to be donated than the five minutes it might’ve taken me to muster the building blocks of Harley. Jen knew it was going to take sacrifice, and since my head was way up my own ass about movies, she knew in order to will this family into existence, she’d have to be the one to give things up, and maybe even give herself entirely."

I feel sorry for his wife. Lazy butt.

Mar 20 12 - 9:12am
Jwow's tits

Dr. Oz says you lose an inch of penis length/girth with every extra 35lbs. This guy's packing nothing but mushroom cap. I feel sorry for his wife too.

Mar 21 12 - 12:47am
Z

Dr. Oz is an idiot.

Mar 20 12 - 9:15am
JCF

This would have been something special if it were about half the length that it is.

Mar 20 12 - 10:27am
Mr. Obvious

Treadmill, hit it already

Mar 20 12 - 12:03pm
Perigee

This is nothing more than a updated version of the Victorian ideal of the "angel in the house." She is his helpmate and inspiration, supported and loved by him in exchange for sacrificing her independence to his needs. Bah, humbug.

Motherhood and family, even with an insanely busy spouse, does not and should not constitute the whole identity of a talented woman. She could have married Kevin and continued her career. She could have raised Harley and continued to write. I have no qualms with women who choose to be housewives, but I hate to see it elevated to sainthood, and I hate seeing someone with a strong voice chose silence. Also, for women not married to the very rich, choosing to be the angel in the house often amounts to being left impoverished and unskilled at divorce or widowhood. It is a risky gamble to believe that your spouse will always 1) earn enough to support the household, 2) remain healthy enough to keep on being the only earner, and 3) choose to support you if your marriage fails.

If I wanted to read about how wonderful it is for a woman to "give up her life" to wifehood and motherhood, I'll read Caitlin Flanagan. But of course, I already read Patmore in college, so I don't need to read these modern recapitulations.

Mar 20 12 - 12:26pm
TMG

GET OVER IT. The whole point of feminism is that women get to CHOOSE what they want these days, and if this is the life she wanted (and since SHE made it happen, we have to assume she did) then that's fabulous, and it's great that he acknowledges and appreciates her sacrifices where so many partners would take it for granted after more than a decade together.

Mar 20 12 - 12:58pm
Perigee

There is nothing to get over. I respect her right to make the choice she did. I stayed home with my babies when they were babies. However, I dislike that her choice is basically characterized by her husband as "giving up her life," and I want to disavow the idea that only by giving up all professional aspirations can a woman support her husband and raise her kid. Also, I know from (nonpersonal but close friend and family) experience that when Dad drops dead of a heart attack at 50 and Mom hasn't worked in 20 years, or Dad has a stroke and can't work as an electrician any more and Mom has to get relicensed and compete in a field full of nurses half her age, the whole family suffers terribly. There are real risks women take in giving up their professional lives.

My main point is, the romanticized rhetoric of the angel in the house has changed very little from Patmore in 1854 to Flanagan and Smith in 2012.

Mar 20 12 - 2:05pm
LT

Totally agree with you, Perigee. You give up having your own income at some serious risk. IT has nothing to do with feminism, imo, it's just a fact as you never know what will happen, as you pointed out.

Mar 21 12 - 11:07am
nope

Yep, the point of feminism is that women can choose to do whatever they want with their lives. It doesn't mean we have to celebrate whatever they choose, the same way freedom of speech doesn't mean we have to celebrate everything everyone says. There are plenty of women whose life choices that women CAN make and I would not prevent them from making but I do not feel the need to idolize, and "sacrificing your career to follow your husband and raise his kid" is definitely one of them.

Mar 20 12 - 12:09pm
Me

Wow, what a bunch of bitter pricks you all are.

Mar 20 12 - 1:47pm
David Blackstone

Seriously. The guy's trying to say "thank you and I love you" to his wife. I'll never understand some people's need to belittle people they don't know anonymously over the internet. Fat jokes, penis length insults, and irrelevant politica agendas. Hey bitter pricks: make something, put your name on it, and then we'll see how much love you get from the unwashed masses.

Mar 20 12 - 2:12pm
+1

I agree, I thought it was a touching essay about appreciating his spouse and giving her credit for the role she plays in his life and the life of his daughter.
And being Canadian, I approve of the #99 reference!

Mar 20 12 - 5:15pm
Like it is

Welcome to the Internet's commenters. As usual, a smidgeon of insight wrapped up in a suffocating blanket of knee-jerk snark and anonymous cowardice. Lovely world we've created eh?

Mar 21 12 - 11:10am
nope

@David Blackstone: Yeah, FUCK commentary, criticism and thought! Automatic mindless praise should be the proper response to any kind of attempt at creation!

Mar 25 12 - 12:38am
@nope

because penis length insults are thoughtful criticisms.

Mar 20 12 - 12:27pm
Sarah

I thought it was very sweet. Thanks!

Mar 20 12 - 2:06pm
Banky

I once lent Chasing Amy to my aunt, she said it was smutty frat boy humor, I guess she didn't see that it was "...a film about male sexual insecurity and the nature of love."

Besides that, this was a very charming piece and it seems like Kevin and his wife are pretty content with their decisions despite the raging naysayers on here who revert to their feminist lit courses to dissect the guy's life.

Mar 21 12 - 5:22pm
drkrick

What the heck do you think smutty frat boy humor is about if not male sexual insecurity?

Mar 20 12 - 3:27pm
Edward

I wish this annoying Emo Hack would go away.

Mar 20 12 - 6:23pm
Ouch

At first I was touched. Then I considered the source and realized it sounds like dude is trying to work his way out of the doghouse.

Mar 20 12 - 10:51pm
yep

My thought exactly. This could be called "How I Cheated On My Awesome Wife and Back-paddled Hard."

Mar 21 12 - 11:48am
Not really

That would be a great title, except Kevin never cheated on Jen. So that isn't very relevant, now is it?

Mar 21 12 - 4:26am
nope

Not good enough. The lip service is not good enough. Totally agree on Perigee's comment about "The Angel in the House" (which is about a woman writer in the nineteenth century who is constantly praised by her husband for being so totally self-sacrificing that she totally sacrifices her writing). I know so many talented, intelligent, creative women...and I would consider it FAR more romantic if their men said not "Thank you for abandoning yourself entirely for my benefit" but rather "DON'T abandon yourself for my benefit because I love you too much to see you dwindle away to nothing. I'm a grown man, I don't need you to diaper my ass AND the baby's. Let's work this shit out like grownups." My $0.02.

Mar 21 12 - 11:44am
M

Why do you even care? This isn't your relationship and it wasn't your choice. People make sacrifices and concessions in relationships. This is Kevin's thank you to Jen, for doing something for the greater good of them and their family, something he most likely never even dreamed of asking her to do, but something she did nonetheless. So let him say thank you and leave your two cents in the piggy bank.

Mar 21 12 - 12:24pm
nope

This isn't actually the same person but I don't disagree with what the person above me wrote, so I'll defend 'em: If Kevin Smith wanted no one to comment on his relationship or the statement he is making about it, he had every opportunity to just not write about or publish it. This is not a private thank you note or love letter, it is a published article. Thus, it can and should be held to a bit more scrutiny. Asking "What does this say about gender relations today?" is a totally valid line of commentary and "Why do you care?" is a nonsense rebuttal. Why do you care enough to shut down thought, but not to entertain it?

Mar 22 12 - 1:21am
M

Why would I entertain the question of what this article says about gender relations? This isn't an article about gender relations in a broad context, but rather, a completely specific situation. And I think that Kevin completely made his gratitude known for what Jen did for him and their family. If the roles had been reversed, would this be a problem? Honestly, women are damned at all if they want to give up something for marriage or family, because they are seen as playing into gender stereotypes of being the mother and housemaker. The point of modern feminist thought is that women have a choice to decide what is best for them. This is Kevin thanking her for the choice she made.

Mar 21 12 - 3:22pm
Sex Fairy

I thought this was really beautiful, sweet, and genuine...and I'm a total fucking cynic. What is WRONG with you people??

Mar 22 12 - 5:22pm
SisterhoodBetrayer

I think that both sides of the comment war have something - it's true, we can't lambast the lady for making her own choices. If she's any bit as awesome as the man claims, it will have been the right choice for her.
HOWEVER this does not mean that there could not have been some compromise, with each of them giving up some aspects of their career, if he had been more self-aware and family-centred when he got her pregnant. the article reads to me as mostly an apology for being a dick and forcing the woman to choose between housewife and mother or no relationship. Compromise should always be the first thing on the table IMHO - both for equality-type feminist reasons, and to preserve the skillset and employability of both partners in case of emergency.
As it is an apology, those criticising the arrangement have a point, which he is hoping to answer with the apology. It's a poor answer but better than nothing.
Spoken as a woman who is broody as fuck and loves making sandwiches.

Mar 23 12 - 5:03pm
G Unit

As usual, some people lack perspective. You gonna go the grave thinking I coulda worked for MTV or USA today more, or thinking, I'm so glad I got be a Mom to that girl, and wife to that guy.

Apr 11 12 - 4:05am
Mikey

You wrapped it all up about as nicely as it could be said.

Jun 05 12 - 4:33pm
Solipsystem

For anyone worried over her career being mothballed, and him dropping dead of a heart attack, thus leaving the family penniless....I am pretty sure after several hit films, he's got a couple bucks squared away by now "in case of emergency." He might even have fucking life insurance.

So now that you've done your PSA and reminded us how housewives are, in reality, endangering the safety of their households by fully raising their own children...and how righteous and valuable you are for pointing that out, do the following:

Ask yourself, aren't *you* betraying *your* family's earning capabilities by pissing away $80K on a degree in Women's Studies?