Sociologist and best-selling author BJ Gallagher’s interview with artist and author David Gerbstadt.
One of the things I enjoy about Facebook is the opportunity to meet people I would never meet otherwise. Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated a good number of artist friends from all over the country. They, in turn, have introduced me to other artists. That’s how I found David Gerbstadt, whose quirky, funky, outsider art makes me smile, often chuckle. When I learned that David’s canine companion is a three-legged dog named Noel, I decided to learn more about this unusual artist and his unusual dog. David graciously agreed to an interview. Since his is essentially a love story, I thought that Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time to share it.
Tell me about your art, David.
While still in college I decided to marry art and took a vow in sickness, and health, ’til death does us part. It has been over 20 years since this vow and I have done it all: had no money, had some money, died, came back to life, and now I’m back to staying afloat. The journey leads me to create art with anything, on anything, anywhere I am. I don’t need fancy materials to make something. All the art I create comes from my mind and there is plenty in there to tap into. There is nothing to it but to do it. It is in the doing that I am free. Art heals me. Art heals the people who buy my work and have in their lives. They tell me that it brings smiles and happiness into their world.
I understand you were once run over by a car. How the heck did that happen? And how did it change your life?
Car? I wish it had been a car! Actually, it was a tracker trailer with 14 wheels. How it happened? I do not know. There were three eye-witnesses and they each told different stories. All I know is that the first wheel missed me; the second wheel rolled right over my leg; and I somehow dragged myself out of the way of the other wheels rolling toward me.
The paramedics told me later that I had saved my life by managing to get out of the way. When they arrived to tend to me, I had no pulse. No blood flow. Yet, I can tell you that I heard everything they said.
Today, it feels like I was given a new life in the same body. I have been to where the fire burns all night. I don’t sweat the small stuff — like long lines at stores, traffic congestion, and all the other tiny things that people complain about… It’s all ant poop.
You have a very special relationship with your tri-pawed dog, Noel. When and where did you adopt her? How did she lose her leg?
I was email chatting with a friend on Christmas Eve morning very early and they sent me a link to the Delaware county SPCA site and told me to look at “Noel’s Page.” I looked at her photo and read her story — how she was hit by a car one dark, rainy night around Halloween. A man found her in the road and took her to a local animal hospital. Noel had three fractures in her right leg and a lot of road rash all over. The vet set her leg and put a cast on it. But when they checked the leg a few days later, they saw that it was just too far gone. Too much tissue was gone from the leg. So, the vet removed Noel’s right leg.
She was sent to Delaware County SPCA to heal. I filled out the form to adopt and then slept on it. The next day was Christmas so the SPCA was closed. I waited ’til the following day to go get her. When I pulled up to the shelter in my car, she was outside being walked by a shelter attendant. When she saw me, she jumped up and lavished dog kisses on me. That was all it took. We were meant to be together. I rescued Noel and she rescued me right back.
What made you decide to write a book? What’s the message you want to share with the world?
While I was in the hospital, a nurse came into my room about 5 a.m. to draw blood for tests. I had blood drawn everyday for weeks but had never had seen this nurse before. As she drew the blood she told me, “Ya’ gots a story ta’ tell and you’s gotta tell it!’ She kept repeating this over and over. You see, I had really no idea how serious my accident had been.
Weeks later, on the inpatient rehab floor, a therapist working on another patient asked me, “You ever consider writing a book?” It was then that I researched my injury and understood what the medical staff were dealing with in my case. What had happened to me, only a couple people survived, and no one I know still has their leg.
The message? A few messages came out of writing my book, One Breath at a Time. “Sometimes in life we hit speed bumps and sometimes we are the speed bump.” “We are loved, we matter, and we all are here for a reason.” I saw death a few times the day that I was run over, and yet I came back to life. Why? I never gave up! I don’t say, “See you later” anymore.
What do you most want people to get out of reading your book?
Anything is possible, an inch at a time. I started writing the book but it was far too much to bear. I stopped writing, knowing I still had to do it someday — to have some closure and to share the story.
Years passed. Then a friend suggested I open the file for five minutes a day. “You don’t even have to write,” he told me. “You can just stare at the screen. If you feel you can write. Then write.”
Several months went by and it was not long before I was done. I get through this life one breath at a time. I cannot live in the past or the future — all I have is this moment. Upon finishing the book I told myself, “If I helped just one person to see we can keep moving forward no matter what, then that’s just icing on the cake.”
Any final comments?
I have wishes and dreams — some have come true some still are being cooked by the Universe. One dream is to dance with Noel onstage with Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen has made me smile and laugh so many times — she has helped me through my physical and emotional healing. Laughter is a wicked fantastic medicine!
David Gerbstadt visits schools to teach workshops and is a motivational speaker as well. For more information about David, his art, his dog, and his book “One Breath at a Time,” visit www.gerbstadt.net.