Saturday, November 11, 2023

Q&A with Jody Gelb




Jody Gelb is the author of the new memoir She May Be Lying Down but She May Be Very Happy. It focuses on the life of her late daughter Lueza. Gelb is also an actor. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: First of all, I wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your daughter...


Why did you decide to write this memoir?


A: I never decided to write a memoir. It started out as short pieces in the third person. They were all things that I was going through or thinking about, but I could only write them if I turned myself into a woman named Mattie.


After a few years of this, I spoke to a writing teacher that I had taken a short workshop with, and she suggested that it needed to be in the first person.


I didn’t have the confidence as a writer to think that I was writing a memoir, but I did take her advice, and little by little, I started to hope that it could be a book someday.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: When my daughter Lueza was a baby, she wasn’t developing any of the normal physical milestones that a baby is supposed to.


She wasn’t starting to roll. She wasn’t using her hands the way babies are supposed to, and we were still not clear how extensive her brain damage had been or even if there had been brain damage. We were still hoping that she would “catch up” and that the terrifying birth was not going to be a problem.


And one day, when she was lying on her back, I asked my husband if she would always be lying down. I probably sounded on the edge of panic, and he calmly responded: she may be lying down, but she may be very happy.


And we didn’t know it then, but that’s what happened. She could only lie down, but she was very happy. She had a beautiful life with us.

Q: The writer Lidia Yuknavitch said of the book, “There is a space between private and public where we humans waver. She May Be Lying Down but She May Be Very Happy by Jody Gelb explores that liminal space by and through both her body as a mother, lover, performer, and the roles she has inhabited in her life...” What do you think of that description?


A: I think that Lidia is a sublime writer. I think she captures the places that this book enters into. All the ways that we are in our lives. So many different roles we inhabit.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write this book?


A: When I told a writer friend of mine about my book, he said that it must’ve been wonderful to spend that time with Lueza, and I thought, yes. It was wonderful and also painful to tell these stories.


It became an obsession and a kind of torment because I was never sure that I could finish it. It was an enormous challenge, and I quit at times, and then I’d realize that I had to keep going, and the writing and tinkering would start again.


I’ve always worked as an actor, and figuring out how to tell these stories was a completely new world for me, and having to write and edit certain stories with Lueza was excruciating at times.


I feel a huge sense of gratitude that Kelson Books wanted to publish this work.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on sharing this book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I grew up in New York City and lived there until I was 44. We moved to California in 2000 when Lueza got a spot at the Bridge School near San Francisco.


Bridge was started by Neil Young’s wife, Pegi Young, and another parent. Their two sons had complex physical disabilities, and these parents started a school to meet the needs of these kids.


Every year, Neil and Pegi and their team would take over the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, and the greatest rock groups and everyone from Tom Jones to Crosby Stills and Nash, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Tom Petty, and Tony Bennett would play all weekend to raise money for the school.


The kids and the families would get to be on the stage right behind the artists, and it was the most JOYOUS event imaginable. Our younger daughter was always with us for the concerts, and she is now touring the USA and the world as a rising singer-songwriter named Dora Jar.


I remain a New Yorker who lives in California and loves it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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