Kevin Smith on his wife, daughter, and having the record for assists in a marriage.
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 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.
We’ve been together fourteen years now, and my passion has shifted from film to family. After years of making shit up, now I’m entranced by the cold hard reality of it all, the wonder of the mundane and average; the blurred line between life and diversion doesn’t require made-up people and situations anymore, and the investment in recording simple conversation is about time, not dimes. When we launched Plus One, I got to combine my love of podcasting and my love of talking to (and making fun of) Jen. Sometimes, we’re even joined by Harley, so I get to incorporate my entire family in my art— which is only ﬁtting, as I’ve been my wife’s art project for over a decade now and my kid is gonna have to dwell on this earth for all time as Silent Bob’s daughter. Now I’m more interested in capturing their feelings, thoughts, ideas, and chatter. Motherfuck make- pretend characters in a ninety-minute stoner comedy; gimme real, interesting people with a point of view. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m surrounded by real, interesting people. Now it’s their time to take center stage— whether they’re public people or not.
And I know all the podcasts in paradise will never make up for the life Jennifer gave up in order to join my traveling sideshow, even if she did promptly make it her own. It’s a debt that humbles me, and one I can never repay in full. We can accomplish very little by ourselves in this world, so we look to others to help us ﬂesh out our whimsies. And every once in a while, a player so great comes along, they improve your game. I’ve achieved a lot of my goals, but usually because someone was there to feed me a pass I could one-time into twine.
One of my favorite aspects of the Gretzky mythos is his insane stats that dominate every other top athlete in their respective sports by massive margins. When he retired from the game, Gretzky had 894 regular-season goals — a jaw-dropper of a number. But the real story is told in his assists record: 1,963. Nearly two thousand times, the greatest hockey player who ever lived passed the puck to someone else to put in the net. That’s more than double the amount of times he took the shot himself. Instead of trying to grab the glory, he shared the wealth and elevated others. Gretzky was a team player with an astounding work ethic and an uncanny ability to see not only where the game was, but where the game was eventually going—and rather than keep that light under a bushel, he spread it around, using it to illuminate the talents of others. There is nothing more beautiful in hockey or in that excellent metaphor for hockey called life than the assist: you give of yourself so that someone else can achieve their goal.
Jen has been my Gretzky for years now. She regularly feeds me passes and elevates my game. I score and win because I’ve got an unselfish, talented teammate who feels it’s better to give than receive and believes it’s better to assist than score. And on top of that, she’s got one up on Gretzky: she fucks me. And being fucked by Jennifer Schwalbach is my idea of heaven, because she can fuck like a demon.
If life had anything like the Hockey Hall of Fame, Jen Schwalbach would be inducted into the Builder category. And under her plaque, it’d say, “Jennifer Schwalbach always seemed to know where the puck was going but used that talent to help others reach their goals instead — particularly an anonymous, untalented fat boy from New Jersey who fell in love with her hard." Without a doubt, she truly is the Great One.
Excerpted from TOUGH SH*T by Kevin Smith. Copyright (c) 2012 by Kevin Smith. Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
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