#11 Marriage Story, Parenting, and a Frozen Head

Hello again. It has been a fast and busy week.

With less than a month to go before grad school at Goddard starts up again, I’ve been preparing for the new semester. My thesis is a novel based on a true story. What I learned very quickly last semester is that there isn’t a lot of time for research or for things like character work and outlining because my adviser wants me to turn in finished manuscript pages. So I’m using this time to flesh out characters and do some more research.

I’m also trying to get everything done that I know I won’t have time for when the semester begins. Some of this is important stuff like budgeting. Some of it is less important stuff like catching up on Amazing Spider-Man (Spider-Geddon was kind of meh.)

Anyway, let’s get on with the newsletter.

What I’m Watching
Almost ten years ago I went through a long and painful custody battle for my son. It was a harrowing experience that isn’t easy to explain to those who haven’t been through it. Until now. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story isn’t just a well written, well acted, well made movie. It is also the movie I’ll point anyone to if they’re considering divorce, particularly if they’re considering divorce and have kids.

Marriage Story starts off with Adam Driver’s character saying what he loves about Scarlett Johansson’s character and then her doing the same for him. From here on out, it’s going to get rough.

Driver and Johansson are two of the most recognizable people in Hollywood. So it’s impressive that for the vast majority of the film I forgot who they were and just lived in this world of theirs for two hours. These people and the moments they go through feel absolutely real. I was not surprised at all when both actors received Oscar nominations for their performances.

Perhaps the most authentic aspect of the film is the depictions of the family lawyers (played by Alan Alda, Laura Dern, and Ray Liotta) in Marriage Story. Family law is an interesting profession and it takes all sorts. Some just want people to get along. Others see it as a war in which only their client can win. But the thing divorce lawyers do best is take behavior that was entirely understandable in real life and turn it into a fundamental character flaw that makes the other parent unfit. Like in real life, this happens again and again in Marriage Story.

Typically in movies about break ups the filmmakers inevitably take sides. Typically the movie takes the guy’s side. I love War of the Roses, but you can tell that the film kind of sides of Michael Douglas’s character. Noah Baumbach manages to balance the two characters to effectively give us a realistic view of each side.

Marriage Story is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It’s available on Netflix and well worth your time. I’d like to watch it again, but it’s a painful movie for me to watch. It may have been nearly a decade ago, but this movie still touched those nerves.

What I’m Listening To
Tim Ferriss’s podcast is one that I listen to if the guest interests me. In the case of one of his latest podcasts, the guest is Penn Jillette, the talking part of the magic/comedy duo, Penn & Teller, two of my favorite performers.

In the two-hour podcast Penn talks about everything from being skeptical without becoming cynical to how he used to get crowds of people together as a street performer. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative conversation.

What I’m Clicking On
The potentials and dangers of a ‘smart city’ run by AI.

How the gig economy screws the poor (and in particular how Doordash is a scam).

Why sharing that link you don’t like helps the people you don’t like.

An ongoing legal battle for a man’s decapitated, frozen head.

What I’m Thinking About
I’ve driven over 500 miles in the last week. Most of this has been driving to and from Seattle where my 22-year-old son has a construction job. The locations of the job sites are typically residential areas but they change. This makes mass transit a bad solution and currently he’s having trouble with his vehicle. So I’ve been waking up at 5:30am and driving him to Seattle, then driving back to Seattle again in the afternoon to pick him up.

This is kind of my own Dad’s fault. When I was younger he promised that he would always pick me up, no questions asked, if I needed a ride. No matter when. No matter where. If he were capable of doing it, he would do it. When I was my son’s age my Dad once picked me up after I woke up on a 15-foot trampoline in Oregon City. Another time he picked me up from Bellingham one Sunday morning with no notice. He just got in his car and drove for three hours to come get me. And so I made the same promise to my son.

I’ve picked my son up at 3am in front of a grocery store. I’ve picked him up in the alley behind a bar on South Tacoma Way where a Russian bouncer seemed ready to fight him. I’ve picked him up at countless friends’ houses and job sites. And it’s something I’ll continue to do though he’s an adult.

I have an approach to parenting that may be unconventional, but it is supportive and loving and it isn’t cruel. Things like public shaming and so called ‘tough love’ are not forms of parenting but forms of abuse. To my mind, parents should be the only people in your life who you can absolutely count on, even when you might not deserve to have people to count on. When no one else can or will help you, Mom and Dad should be there.

I realize that other parents deal with their children differently. I also realize that other parents wonder why they never hear from their adult children.

This past Saturday my son called me not for a ride, but to invite me out to breakfast. He’d gotten his first paycheck from his new job and wanted to thank me for giving him rides. We spent a couple of hours talking to each other while eating breakfast sandwiches then wandered down to the record shop where I picked up a couple of CDs. I expect they’ll remind me of that breakfast whenever I put them on.

I can’t claim to know the secrets of parenting. But I can promise you that every child, no matter how old they get, has problems. As a parent, you should try as much as possible not to be one of them.


That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading and thanks to those of you who respond. I do read every response even if I don’t always reply. Stay safe out there. And if you need a bit of motivation, click here.

- Jack