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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 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.