Jennifer Grey, OUT OF THE CORNER

Jennifer Grey, OUT OF THE CORNER

Zibby is joined by the star of Dirty Dancing and other hit films Jennifer Grey to talk about her debut memoir, Out of the Corner, which she says writing was one of the best experiences of her life. The two discuss how Jennifer came to terms with her anxiety as well as with her chronic pain, what it was like for her to recall long-buried memories, and how her relationship with her family has evolved throughout her life and career. Jennifer also shares some of the kind things her daughter told her after reading (and annotating) the book.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jennifer. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so excited to talk about your memoir.

Jennifer Grey: I know, I’m so excited to talk about it too. I’m so excited that you finally got to know what it was I was talking about all that time.

Zibby: Seriously, oh, my gosh.

Jennifer: I struggled to make that happen.

Zibby: It’s not easy. You put so much in. It was beautifully done and so much. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right container for all the different stories. You’ve had such diverse experiences with so many different characters and everything. How do you feel having gotten to the end of this project?

Jennifer: I think it’s been one of the best experiences of my life, kind of like having a baby. When you’re doing it, you’re like, what the hell is going on? Then afterwards, you’re like, I’d do it again. The truth is that, for me, having never been a writer — I’d written journals as a kid. I had always liked writing, but it was mostly just for myself. I had this really, really minimal amount of memories, really scattershot. Is that the expression? Scattershot?

Zibby: Yeah.

Jennifer: I didn’t have a contiguous through line. I just had these slides of memories. It was never like, this happened, then that happened, then that happened. It was more like, let me just get down on my computer, with these two fingers because I don’t even type, these two FU fingers, really slowly, which made me actually take my time because of how slow I am with a computer — I would just try to get what I knew out. Once I got what I knew out, then I would put it aside. Then I would just get the next thing that I could remember. I have a very synesthetic memory. My memories are not who made dinner and who played with me. It was more, I remember the texture of the corduroy, the ribbing on the corduroy dress in that photograph. I remember the texture of the wallpaper that was silver with a matte, chalky, white design on it. I was like, well, that’s not going to make a very good book. I would just do it in little dreamlike — little snapshots. Then I almost felt like it started to meet me. The book started to give me more. I remember when I was first thinking, maybe I should try writing, I read the Anne Lamott book, the Bird by Bird. She talks about school lunches. Do you remember that?

Zibby: Sort of, yes.

Jennifer: She would say, start with what you had in your school lunch. I’d be like, huh. Then you’re concentrating on this really, really minute detail. Then it almost opens up — I picture it like a pomegranate. In my head, my brain, my memory bank are all of those little pods. They’re all juicy. They’re all intact. They’re all mashed together. That’s how I see it. All of a sudden, pod by pod, like Bird by Bird, I would just notice things being revealed to me without me pushing on the door. Then I would get excited by the fact, I remember I would sit with my dad doing his makeup that would go on the matinee. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember it like it was yesterday, though I can’t tell you what I had for dinner yesterday. I remember the smell. I could remember exactly what it — the lighting. I could feel it. I could feel where the doorway was where the people come in. Yet I can’t remember so many things. I just tried to let myself be as odd and stop judging and deciding it was odd, just say, let’s just see what we have, and stop pushing on it. As soon as I stopped pushing on it, I would also say to myself, what else? It doesn’t have to be related. Just, what else? I remember, oh, that was bad. How did that happen? I don’t know. I remember being in Rio and how that happened. I’m like, what did your parents say? I don’t remember, but this, I do remember. I remember the wild dogs on Ipanema Beach. Then I had all these diaries that I was reading to refresh my memory. I would see notes, a note that I never sent to the guy that I went away with saying, and how could you have let me just throw up on the side of the road? I was like, I don’t even remember that. That’s really bad. You go, did I imagine this? This is so terrible and also so amazing because I’ve had such amazing great fortune and such lightning-in-a-bottle good luck and then bizarre, surreal turns of events that I can’t find anyone who could share that experience with me. Does that answer your question?

Zibby: That answered my question. It’s crazy about memory, the short term versus the long term. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where friends of mine will tell me a story, but it won’t come back. It used to be that they’d remind me of something we all did, and I would remember it. Now I’m like, nope, just don’t have that memory at all.

Jennifer: That happens too. I can all of a sudden think about the party in East Hampton where everyone was making out. Everyone was getting stoned. All of a sudden, I could hear the crinkle of the Pepperidge Farm paper that was all pleated.

Zibby: Yep, I love that.

Jennifer: I could feel the tin of the banana cake with the buttercream frosting and how moist it was. I could feel the bending , right?

Zibby: Totally. Nobody does it like Sara Lee.

Jennifer: No, nobody doesn’t like.

Zibby: Oh, nobody doesn’t like. Yes, exactly.

Jennifer: Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.

Zibby: We had those all the time in the freezer.

Jennifer: That makes me want to get one right now and put it in the freezer.

Zibby: I feel like there used to be all these products that all of us shared in addition to shared entertainment and everything.

Jennifer: I think we have more connectivity. We all know “You’re soaking in it.” We all know “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” because we had no choice about — we were forced to watch the same commercials because we were forced to watch a limited amount of shows. It was either that or do your homework or write in your diary or practice your recorder. You had to be bored in order to watch that awful — what was it called? Animal Kingdom, Euell Gibbons, that was so depressing, but it made connectivity between us because there was one movie that would come out that summer, Butch Cassidy or whatever it was. We all saw the same thing. Now everyone sees everything. They see whatever they want all day long. I do sound like an old lady. When I was a kid…

Zibby: No, I feel the same way. I feel the same way. It was such a particular generation. Even ten years younger than me, it’s not the same thing. In your memoir, one of the things I was so struck by was just how, despite all the love in your life, how on your own you seemed to be without anybody catching you when you were falling. The Johnny Carson moment, for me, and the dress — I know it’s not the end of the world, wearing the same dress for two premieres, but just how fragile you were, literally basically broken and not even realizing it. Then having to be thrust into all these situations, who was taking care of you? How do you get over that? Obviously, you made it through and all of that. My heart just went out to you. You think that in these moments — they’re the best moments of someone’s life, and yet it could be the exact opposite.

Jennifer: Especially because ten days before I had just been in the car accident, I would think that I would have extra-special kid gloves and a lot of people showing up and offering me clothes or lending me money or taking me shopping. Culturally, the generational shift of what it was like to be a mom and dad in those days was very different, obviously. My parents, we were super close, almost too close, almost too all over me, which created the individuating rebellion that had to ensue. It’s the natural course of things. It goes from child to adult. My parents, when they would go to Europe, they would go for weeks, maybe. They would be like, “We’re going to call collect on Sunday nights. Be home.” It was like, okay. Then we’d wait for the call. We’d get the call. They would do little, “Stand on this. We’ll put an outline on your foot so we can get you shoes.” They’d come back with presents from Italy, matchbooks from the Gritti Palace or whatever. There was a lot of them doing their own thing, which was really considered — they weren’t even socialites the way some of my other friends were socialites. They had a big career. They went away on vacations without us. I was taking the bus to school starting very early in grade school, third grade. I would take the crosstown bus. Then I’d take the Fifth Avenue bus to go to the Fleming School. I remember being walked to the bus the first few times, getting my bus pass, and just traveling the city by myself as a kid.

Zibby: I have to say, though, I think the buses must have different. I took the bus everywhere too. We all took the bus. The buses were filled with all the kids going to school. I don’t know that it’s the same thing. The bus pass, I was like, what color is it going to be this month?

Jennifer: I don’t know. I haven’t been in a bus around schooltime for a long time.

Zibby: I’m just telling you, most of the kids — well, I shouldn’t say that. Anyway, whatever.

Jennifer: I took the subway when I was going to the United Nations School. I would take the Lexington Avenue subway. That was gnarlier. Really young. I remember being scared. Nobody had cell phones. When I went to Europe as a teenager, I just had maybe two hundred dollars of traveler’s checks. That’s it. No credit card, no cell phone. It was much more the norm at the time to not hear from your parents or them to hear from you for long periods of time. It wasn’t out of lack of love. It was just normal. In a way, it created a resilience in me and an independence in me, even though to this day I’m deeply attached to my parents. They’re both alive. They’re both ninety. I talk to them every day. I just can’t imagine my life without them. As a kid, I lived in terror of anything happening to my parents. Super bound to them, super dependent on them, but there was a thing in me that was, I can handle myself. I could handle myself. I took night trains in Europe by myself. I didn’t even know where I was going. I was like, I think I’ll go to the South of France. I’d look on the train schedule and get on a train and not know where I’m going. Saint-Tropez, where should I stay? I didn’t know anybody, no friends there. I just can’t imagine my child doing — it’s just different. It was a time when travel was different. We didn’t know we could have a phone. There was the pensione with the ring. You were like, “Hi. I’m okay. I’ve got more traveler’s checks. I’ll see you. I’m good. Bye.”

Zibby: Part of the attachment or the intense worry about something happening to your parents, I feel like that’s so classic anxiety stuff, which you talk about.

Jennifer: I’m very classic anxiety stuff, as you can tell from my book. I have a legit anxiety disorder.

Zibby: Yes, you talk about it.

Jennifer: I didn’t know it. I didn’t know what it was because we didn’t talk about that kind of stuff then. I knew there were people who had depression, but I didn’t have that. I didn’t know there was any medicine for me. I didn’t know I had ADHD. I didn’t know I had anxiety. I didn’t know that I had auditory processing. I was like, okay, I’m just going to make this work. What do I have to do to get through this? It was the Wild West compared to now, right?

Zibby: It’s so true. I think it’s so interesting that you had all these fears. Also, there’s this whole movement of Your Body Keeps the Score and all this stuff and how your body can internalize things. Here you are living life with this chronic pain. It’s not addressed for so long. I know a lot of was exacerbated or perhaps just totally caused by the accident. Then how you described it in such detail in the book, and the operations and the deterioration of the vertebrae and how much pain — that scene in the shower where you were on your bed, the nerve damage, that was so intense. What was it like to relive it as you wrote about it? How do you feel now?

Jennifer: Just talking about it makes my neck tight.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Jennifer: No, I’m kidding. I take very special care of my spine now. I know that there’s certain things I can and can’t do. I have certain things I must do. If my head’s like this too long, I have to pull it back. I know that I have to move. If I don’t move, things get really spasm-y. I just treat myself like — if I was a diabetic, I’d have to shoot myself with insulin. It’s just one of those things that I’ve learned to care for. If I’m sitting in a restaurant, I can’t sit like this. If I took an airplane ride with you, I would ask to switch seats halfway through if we were talking because I can’t just sit this — I have to then sit this way. It’s special needs that you just start to understand what it needs. The idea of chronic pain is really so debilitating because it’s like a frog in the water. You don’t know it’s getting hotter until you’re too weak to jump out. You could’ve jumped out, but it just is incremental. Your world gets smaller and smaller. You start accommodating all of these things to try to figure out how to get out of pain. Pain is our biggest teacher. It tells us what we need. Usually for me, it’s a really great barometer to know if I’m anxious or unhappy about something and not expressing it. I’ll just start to feel it. I’ll be like, oh, what are you trying to tell me? There’s that Sarno book. I actually saw Dr. Sarno. He’s like, “Your neck’s fine. You’re angry.” I’m like, well, now I’m angry. I just waited a year to get in with you.

What he talks about is really interesting. If you are what he calls a good, if you’re a good or a pleaser or somebody who thinks about other people’s needs ahead of your own, you’re more likely to have this particular — he has a name for it, whatever this thing is. What happens is you’re not allowed to be mad. You’re not allowed. You’re basically trained to not have needs, not be angry. Otherwise, the love will be taken away. What happens is if you are mad or you’re angry, instead of feeling it or expressing, which is too threatening for your system, your family system or whatever your ecosystem is that you’re swimming in — if you’re a migraine suffer, let’s say, or if you have a neck issue, instead of going, oh, I’ve got a bad neck — if I say, I’ve got a migraine, you’ll say, go lay down. I’ll never to tell you I’m mad. He says if you say to your body, if you say to yourself, huh, I’m feeling this feeling, what am I mad about — nothing. If you were mad at anything, what could you be mad at? Nothing. Everything’s fine. Pick one thing you could be mad at. The fact that I had… Okay. Go into that feeling. You don’t even have to say it to the person. Just making it conscious can literally change the way that oxygen is sent to that section of your brain, your stomach, your nervous — anything. Whatever your thing is becomes a — what’s is called?

Zibby: When it’s psychosomatic?

Jennifer: No, it’s not psychosomatic because it’s physical. It’s a scapegoat. What happens is you don’t have to get mad. You can say, oh, I just really have a terrible migraine. Then everyone’s nice to you because you’re injured. It literally changes the way oxygen is sent to that spot. Don’t you think that’s interesting?

Zibby: I find that fascinating, yes.

Jennifer: If I have a chronic problem — I have a bad back. I could say there’s a lot that I was never aware of being angry about because I’m like, who would love me if I was angry? Who would be able to tolerate my displeasure or disappointing them? Then you realize you’ve put yourself in this little corner, if you will. Then you’re living your life in corners because you’re not really free to be you and me, the way Marlo Thomas said. You’re not free to have feelings that are unpopular — it could disappoint people — or not put everyone ahead of yourself. Then of course, you’re mad. There’s no balance to that. That’s a long-winded answer, but that’s something I’m interested in.

Zibby: I found that totally interesting.

Jennifer: Feel free to cut it out.

Zibby: I’m not cutting it out. Are you kidding? I’m about to go try that with somebody in my orbit who does this frequently. I feel like I’m going to try this tactic.

Jennifer: All you need to do is say, if you were mad about something, what would it be? You have to pick something. Then the more you experience and feel it, you watch the brain not have to divert to your weak spot, which is legit because you have a problem that’s been legitimized by a doctor. Let me know how it goes.

Zibby: I will. I’ll report back. It’s excellent. I loved reading about your becoming a mother and how that changed your approach to life and your feelings about your daughter and what that was like. Just tell me a little more about that and even what it was like writing about it and some of the joy and how that moment shifted everything.

Jennifer: Actually, before, when you were asking me how it felt to revisit the accident and all the pain and the surgeries and stuff, it was hard because you go back into the scene in order to try to remember everything you can remember. It’s painful. Then when I looked at the parts in which I betrayed myself by not fighting for my career, allowing people to treat me in ways that I wished I had known better, that regret of being so empathetic to the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a right to pursue my dream, that to be a good person means that I would have to — what’s the word? Subjugate? No. I would have to capitulate to serve the master of, whatever that person is, usually a man, usually a parent, usually a person that I’ve just been wired to serve. All of a sudden when I got to the good part of getting to write about having my daughter, it was like going on vacation. It was like, oh, that’s what I had to go through all that for. All of this stuff that I thought I wanted, whether it was fame, money, or recognition or people to love me or not put me in the corner, whatever the thing was — I had no capacity to change certain things. I felt so stunted and shunted and every other -unted that I could think of. I got pregnant. It was literally like I was released. I was released.

I knew that there was no place that I would rather be. I knew there was no job more important. I wasn’t jealous of anyone. I wasn’t sad. I met this beautiful man who was doing this with me and was showing up. I just loved being pregnant. I loved feeling like that’s all I need to do right now. I had the luxury of not having to do a crappy job at the same time. I got to luxuriate in recognizing I almost didn’t make it. I was forty-one when I gave birth. I got pregnant like that, naturally. I didn’t even think that that was that special because I was in so much denial about the realities. Then having it be scary that maybe she wasn’t okay, then I realized, I don’t care about anything else. I don’t care about anything else. Just make my baby okay. To this day, I’m still trying to get a little bit more me-centric. It’s really intense because the love and the amount of how important it feels that I give her everything in my power so that she can have a good life to the best of my ability because there’s so much out of my hands, but that I’ve done a good job — it’s a job that you never can do perfectly, which is really infuriating. There’s always something I’m not doing perfectly. That’ll learn me. It’s the hardest job to do well, isn’t it?

Zibby: It is impossible. Yet there is always the next day to try again. I feel like that’s the saving grace.

Jennifer: Right? There’s no end to those chances. I literally would be like, today’s the day I’m going to conquer or naps, or whatever it is. I’m going to get her to get that second nap, damn it, or whatever it is. Then they get older and you’re like, wow, my job’s almost done here. This is intense. Then you realize how little control you have over any of it. They’re just this soul on their own doing their thing and on their journey. Just like my parents tried their best and did a great job, she’ll be writing some book about me. , man, I really tried just like they did. I did better. Then she’ll do better than me. That’s just evolution, in my opinion.

Zibby: Have you talked with her about your book? Has she read it?

Jennifer: I was living with her during the pandemic when I was, in earnest, writing every day. I’d started a couple years ago. Once the pandemic hit, all I was doing was working. I would say, “Hey, can I read you something? Can I read you something?” She’d be like, “Okay.” I’d see her being like, “How long is it?” I’d be like, “Just a paragraph.” It was always like I was squeezing out a few more. “It’s just a paragraph.” I don’t want her to see. I’m reading really fast. She’d be like, “Wow, that’s great. That’s great.” I was like, “Okay, thanks.” Then at the end, I said, “I really want you to read it. I really feel like I want you to –” I wrote it pretty much for me, but also for her. I feel like what they — I believe — this is my opinion. I don’t know how much you talk about epigenetics or you understand about epigenetics, but there is so much, in my opinion, expressed genetically, unsaid things that they perceive, more than what we tell them. If I could give her any more insight or understanding — she didn’t know me as a girl. She didn’t know me as a struggling actress. She didn’t know me really getting beat up in the romantic world in my adventures. She didn’t know that each time, I was landing on my feet a little bit lighter. The cost was great, but that I could continuously learn, continuously get better, she wouldn’t know that part of me. I thought, any way I can show her what is in her, in her genes, the trauma that’s expressed in her genes and the anxiety and all these things as well as the incredible, great stuff I have and the great stuff that my ex-husband has. What happened was, she said, “I don’t want to read it until I get the hardcopy book because you know I like to underline and annotate. I want to annotate. I want the real thing because that’s the book I want to give to my kids.”

Zibby: Aw, that’s so sweet.

Jennifer: The other day, she started annotating, underlining. Then she texted me. “I’m so proud of you, Mama.” I was like, “Why?” She just moved into her own first apartment. She took a picture of my book sitting at her bedside table. She said, “You have so much grace.” I said, “Honey.” It was the best day of my life. She said, “I just can’t believe that you know how to write a book, that you wrote this. I just can’t believe how good your book is and how much grace you have.” I said, “Here’s the thing, honey. Everything that I have is in you. Everything amazing about your dad is also in you.” She’s grown up with two famous parents. Having grown up the child of a famous actor, I know that it comes with its own pressure and burden of, will I ever get to be what they were? It just looks like a fairy tale if you’re a kid. How did that happen? Because she’s so much like me and so much like my ex-husband, I said, “You –” She’s a writer. She wants to be an actor. She’s pursuing it. I said, “At least start writing because the best thing you could do is to be able to write material for yourself to act in and not be waiting for someone to give you permission to do what you love.” She’s like, “I know, I know, I know.” I said, “I’m telling you, everything that I am, you could do anything I have and better. Same with your dad. You’ve got a dad who can write and direct and act and is charming and smart and curious. All of that’s in you.” I just think it’s cool to know. I can see it in her. There’s no reason she shouldn’t have whatever it is that she decides makes her happy.

Zibby: I love that. I love the image of your book on her bedside with her notes in it. Oh, my gosh, that’s the dream, and to have her be so positive. You may have had a lot of bad days of parenting, but I feel like that is the score at the end, when you can get to a moment like that. It’s like, you know what? It didn’t matter about the two naps because here you are.

Jennifer: No, it’s all about the helicopter shot. We pull up. We just look. We go, not too shabby. This morning, my dad finally got the book. I was asking them to send it to him. He was like, “Why haven’t I gotten it yet?” I called him this morning because he got COVID the other day.

Zibby: Oh, no.

Jennifer: None of us have had it. My ex-husband just got it. My dad just got it right after his ninetieth birthday. I feel excited to see him. The book arrived just in time. He’s home isolating. He was so sweet this morning. He was like, “Oh, my god, your writing.” I was like, I can’t believe I’ve lived to have this moment. Everyone else can say it’s shite, but my dad — I’ve been very protective of it because it’s so scary. I didn’t want to have too many voices in my head. I really tried as well as I could to write my story and also being so mindful and so concerned about hurting other people or anyone else misunderstanding it and just knowing that this is my story as I deserve to tell it because it’s my life. It’s not me speaking for anyone else. It’s just what I remember. Memory can be faulty, but I tried my very best to just say what happened from my perspective.

Zibby: I love it. The love you felt for your family, it totally came through. It really did. It was amazing.

Jennifer: I’m so glad you read it.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, I read every word. I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff you’d been through, the adventure. I felt like I went on the wildest ride. It was fabulous. Thank you. The highs, the lows, the trips, your life, now everybody gets to be in your shoes. Oh, my gosh, well done. Great job. Congratulations. I hope you get everything you want out of this whole journey of publication.

Jennifer: It’s kind of there. The writing of it was such a herculean effort for me. The fact that I did it myself and that I have this wonderful editor named Barbara Jones who I hired the last few months — we did hours just on Zoom, never in person. She helped shaped it. I can’t believe I did it. It’s a little like a dream. I kind of feel like the rest of it’s —

Zibby: — Icing on the cake. Thank you so much.

Jennifer: I’m so happy that you read it. I’m so glad to be here with you. Congratulations on Princess Charming.

Zibby: Thank you.

Jennifer: How do you feel?

Zibby: It’s so fun. My kids are so a part of everything. I’ve been putting my older daughter in the Princess Charming costume and bringing her.

Jennifer: I saw.

Zibby: I’m like, that’s my daughter in there. It’s just fun.

Jennifer: What does that feel like?

Zibby: It’s great. She’s having a blast. The book was really about her. The fact that she’s there literally in the costume about the book that’s really about her, it’s all so meta.

Jennifer: I was going to say it’s so meta.

Zibby: It’s been great. Thank you for mentioning.

Jennifer: I’m excited for you. I can’t wait to see it.

Zibby: Thank you. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jennifer: It was a pleasure. I’m just so happy to see you on your podcast instead of in person.

Zibby: You too.

Jennifer: Thank you for being so generous to me when I was feeling so lost. Man, when you’re out there before you figure it out — thinking on it, a lot’s happened. It was all there. Now it’s done.

Zibby: I totally get it. Enjoy your time here.

Jennifer: Thanks. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Jennifer Grey, OUT OF THE CORNER

OUT OF THE CORNER by Jennifer Grey

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