Monday, December 14, 2009

Maclen Muses: Happy Birthday, Mom

The following is a special guest post by one Maclen Jacob Zilber. He guessed his mother's password, for the purpose of surprising her with this blog post when she woke up. What a rascal...

How can one take the life of a woman who put 80 years of happiness and 80 years of pain into 46 years, and even attempt to sum it up?

That was how I started a speech about you, Mom, about a year ago to this day. I guess it's 47 years now, eh? I am still a little bit daunted by the notion of summing up your life, nor could I necessarily do it justice, much as I suggested before. At this stage in your life, you have little use for material goods, nor were you ever much of a materialist, which, to coin a phrase, begs the question: 'what do you get for the woman who has everything and nothing?' The answer is that I have the memory of an elephant, and, while I can't "even attempt to sum up" your entire life, I can give an honest try at writing the story of our life, in reverse chronological order.

[Muselings: While you're reading these little snippets, try to think of a memory of you and Carla, or of how Carla affected you, that stands out. If you feel comfortable sharing it, I'm sure it would put a smile on her face to read it in the comments. An additional note is that this post, because it's written primarily for Carla and only secondarily for her readers, there are some parts that the lay reader may not understand.]

I remember....

A couple of days before I left for college, we went to The City to see "In The Loop." We both knew at the time that it was possibly the last time that we would ever go somewhere alone, without you requiring any assistance, and, frankly, it was quite scary at the time. We walked along the Embarcadero, for a longer time than was necessary to find the theater. This was partially because it was one of those rare days in San Francisco in which the weather measures up to the city itself, and already-friendly Franciscans walk with a bit more pep in their step, as if a ceiling of fog ordinarily kept them from standing up straight, and in its absence, were relishing the freedom of being outside for the first time. It was also partially because the iphone's GPS was getting us lost, and the theater was not particularly easy to find. We had some conversation while walking, but mostly we just soaked in what was likely the last truly great day that we were going to have together.

We got to the theater after going through a series of confusing elevators that would have been in a Marx brothers movie, if the Marx brothers were around in the age of elevators (If I said that sentence in conversation, you probably would look at me indignantly and say, "The Age of Elevators? Who are you, a Sci-fi writer from the '60s?" I would probably respond, "That joke would have worked a lot better if you had used a specific name, like "Arthur C. Clarke"). On the topic of the Marx brothers, the movie, in many respects, traced its roots all the way to "Duck Soup," the last war satire with the same cocktail of levity and import.

After the movie, we went to a very expensive restaurant. You were in a wheelchair (duh), and I was in a t-shirt and jeans (lack of style sense is a disability too, okay!), and the staff of the restaurant seemed curious about why the hell two people who weren't dressed all that well would dare set foot into their establishment. It must be a special occasion, the waiters seemed to think. Otherwise, how would the riff-raff get in? You explained to them that I was leaving for college, and were amused when they thought that I was your brother.

In fairness, though, I once thought that I was your brother when I saw a picture of a seventeen-year-old Jason Smith and he looked exactly like me. "I don't remember wearing those clothes!" I confusedly remarked. "That's didn't...that picture was taken well over 20 years ago."

The following day was the worst day since the day of the diagnosis. We watched a movie and I cried. We went to a sushi restaurant, and I cried. We'd laugh at a joke, and I'd cry. I knew that there were still going to be more days with you, but I also knew that they were numbered, and that I was now transitioning out of "our life," and into "my life." But while we were at that sushi restaurant, in a lull in which there was no conversation, I looked across the table and felt a smile wash through my face like hot cocoa. I realized, as I sat there and we just smiled, that everything was going to be all right. Everything was going to be fucking terrible, but it was also going to be all right.

When we got home, and it was time for me to leave, I made a joke about buying one of those Calendars with every minor holiday on it, and coming back for the "Festival of Stockholm" (sorry Swedes, it's minor). We hugged, and I left.


I remember...

Going to Orlando to see the "Holy Land Experience Theme Park" with you and Jamie. There isn't a whole lot of ground on this that hasn't been covered, but I have to say that my best memories of the trip are not the souvenirs or the amazing video footage, but just sitting around the sports bar watching basketball and exchanging witty banter with you. I think that years from now I will still remember the following scene, though I'm not sure how much good this will do for your reputation:

[Carla, Mac, and Jamie are walking back to their apartment in a themed Disney Resort. Okay, they're not walking back to their apartment, they're trying to find somebody who can unlock the door to their apartment, since the door is locked from the inside. An adorable little boy, about eight years old, is walking by with his dad.]

Father: [unintelligible]
Adorable little boy: And that would cost 200 moneys!
Carla: That kid's a [can't finish, laughing too hard. Catches breath] That kid's an [same thing happens again, can't talk because of laughter]
Mac: That kid's a what?
Carla: That kid's an ihh [laughing] that kids an ihh [keeps laughing]
Jamie: This can't possibly be as funny as you're making it seem
Carla: [several minutes later] That kids an idiot! [laughs hysterically some more]
Jamie and Mac: -Mocking comments you would expect after somebody called a little kid an idiot and laughed uncontrollably for five minute about it-


I remember...

Sitting in our old apartment on Kains street, around October or November of 2008, and having you ask, "you know where I think a great place to go during the winter would be?" I have a fun little eccentricity where, whenever people ask questions that are practically unanswerable, and are functionally intended to get the person who hears the question to ask a question to the questioner, I will guess, rather than asking the intended question. I said, "Sydney?" And you said, "yes, how did you know?" With that, it was decided that we were going to go to Sydney, how could we not?

As for Sydney, I don't think that there would be much to be gained by me talking about the wildlife reserve or the hospital, because you probably have memories of those incidents that are nothing short of Crystal clear. Instead, I'll try to jog a couple of random memories:
- Remember the cruise ship, where they couldn't move the wheelchair to the upper deck, so you, Papa, Lisa, and I got the entire dining hall to ourselves? Remember the ridiculous Australian anecdotes the recorded voice mentioned? Remember the fun we had at its expense?
- Remember watching the movie "21" on pay-per-view? Not a particularly good movie, but I remember it being one of the first normal things that happened on that trip
- Remember the GPS device that spoke in an australian accent, and therefore pronounced "recalculating" as "reCOWLkyulaiting?"
- Remember Lisa Klein's insistence on finding "Spelt in Gleeb," not because she knew that Gleeb had particularly good spelt bread, but because she thought it sounded good?
- Remember our conversation about how, in honor of the phrase "Bringing Coals to Newcastle," we should bring a Nat King Cole album to Newcastle?


I remember....

When I directed my first play, "Tape" by Stephen Belber. This was the first major bit of theater that I had done without you being in some way involved. Yet, on the very first rehearsal, something odd happened. I realized that I knew how to direct. I had picked it up by osmosis, from standing next to you for a decade while you taught theater classes and directed plays. It was at this juncture in time that I realized that, even without you being present, you would always, in a way, play a role in my decisions. That your wisdom would always be with me. Because it was a one-act play, you and I doubled as back-to-back stand-up comedy routines to warm up the audience for the show. We laughed at the jokes that nobody laughed at and crossed our arms at the jokes everybody laughed at. One joke, a tedious but memorable one straight out of the tradition of Henry Youngman, will forever stay with the people who attended the show.

"My son will now assist me for my final impersonation. Mac?" you asked, as I came out of the audience and lifted you out of your wheelchair. "Ta-da, my imitation of stand-up comedy."


I remember...

I remember being present for your final concert, and even I wasn't immune from being mesmerized by the effect of the last song. As the last song came to a close, the crowd was silent. Then, as if in a movie, all in the house stood up and broke out into rapturous applause, giving due recognition to the coda of a truly special career in entertainment. I remember thinking at the time, "This would make for a great climactic scene in a documentary." I kid you not.


I remember...

The final showing of our Opus Magnus, "War and Peacemeal," a satire on war that, come to think of it, makes me eat my words about "In The Loop" being the only modern war satire that measures up to "Duck Soup" in import and levity. Yeah, I just compared a silly work we wrote to one of the greatest films in the history of the cinema, what are you going to do about it?

Anyhow, I'm sure that you remember with crystal clarity the ending of the last show. What you probably don't know, however, is that, backstage during the last show, I cried during your original composition, "I Will Find You." I couldn't see you or hear you, but I know that you did too. All of the "it's a Disney-style song" derision I could muster could only last so long against a song written by my own mother about a mother saying goodbye to their kid. I'm sure that, years from now, I will listen to that song on your new CD (which, readers, if you're roped in, can be downloaded for only along with a whole new album of Carla originals, "Love, Death, and Wings," for $9.99 at this address) and still cry from it. That makes it the norm, rather than the exception, among your songs.


I remember...

Sitting with you in our small apartment on Kains avenue, along with Sofia Alexander, the three of us seemingly drowning in paper, creating the script to a a wonderful full-length play, "War and Peacemeal." In three days. Back then you could still walk, but it was sort of ill-advised for you to do so, and you often used a scooter to get around during rehearsals. This was really the first creative project in which you and I were equal partners, and I was relishing it. [This will come as a surprise to many of you who watched "War and Peacemeal," but my contributions to the play were most of the soundtrack and the tearjerking bits, while Carla's contributions were the sophomoric jokes and the plot structure. That being said, these contributions intermingled a lot, and she and I still argue to this day over who came up with certain parts of the play.] It was truly a 50-50 enterprise, with neither of us writing an outright majority of the script. It still puts a smile on my face to think of those piles of paper strewn about the floor, the brainstorms and breakthroughs we had, and the wonderful lightbulb feeling when we (okay, if you insist on giving somebody credit, I) stumbled across a way to end a hilarious play with the audience in tears.


I remember...

The first day that "War and Peacemeal" became even an abstract idea on the horizon. Eleven days before you were diagnosed with A.L.S. (Two years ago today, in fact, but who's counting?) I bought you "The Complete Works of Aristophenes." However, either because I was a [politically correct censor] giver, or because, for a Professor Emeritus of Theater, you don't like to read much, I ended up being the first person to crack open the book. I skipped over "Frogs," "Lysistrata," and everything else that might have been made into a play before. Instead, I zeroed in on a piece called "Peace," (ooh, it's a homonym, he's so good!) a play so unknown that our play opened with "Anybody who has read this play before, raise your hand." Most nights, nobody would raise their hand. If somebody did, the actor reading the monologue, I would say, "psh, you're lying. Nobody has read this play since John McCain was in grade school." In the morning, I excitedly presented you with the idea for our play, and we immediately shot ideas back and forth, hashing together some semblance of a plot in no time. With another mother, OR another director, my idea would probably be met with a response along the lines of, "oh, that would be funny. Good idea," and no further action. With you, the idea was allowed to turn into a capstone worthy enough for you to un-retire from directing, just for this last show.


I remember...

The day that you were diagnosed with A.L.S. I had gone over to the house of our friends the Cardalls in the morning, and was bizarrely told that I needed to return at 1 P.M. because my grandfather was leaving town, and I needed to say goodbye to him. I guess you can't expect a group of people who just heard the worst news of their lives to come up with the most plausible excuse.

I remember walking into our apartment, with you sitting on the couch, and a look on your face that l knew meant that something truly horrid had happened. I couldn't think what it could be. Had one of my grandfathers died? You sat me down, and told me.

"I have A.L.S."

I didn't know what that was. See what I mean about why we need more A.L.S. awareness? I went on the next two to three minutes of our conversation as if A.L.S. was something like Chronic Fatigue or Crohn's Disease. Then you said the words that changed everything.

"I may have as many as ten years to live."

It sunk in that you were going to die. There was nobody in the world I was closer to, and I was going to lose you. Probably sooner, rather than later. Even for somebody who had never used the word "mom" in his lie, I had the only reaction that anybody could have in that situation. I threw my arms around you and began to weep uncontrollably, saying "Mommy, mommy."

I know for a fact that you know what you said to me after you calmed down. You told me that you were going to lose control of your limbs, until you were completely paralyzed, and that, while you were still healthy, you wanted to go boogie boarding in Mexico. I suggested, movie buff that I am, that we go to Zihuatanejo. And so it was decided. Just like every other dark place, you managed to blast your way through it so that there was some light.


I remember....

Going to Sayulita, Mexico, because the boogie-boarding waves were bigger than those in Zihuatanejo. Best decision of our lives. This quirky town off of Puerto Vallarta provided the memories of a lifetime, and some day I will scatter your ashes in the city where I had the best vacation of my life.

I'm sure you remember:
- The Sayulita Days festival, one in which not a single "Gringo" outside of the two of us dared to attend. It was like a theme park out of a Steve Buscemi movie. There were rickety roller-coasters that looked like they'd crumble under the weight of two tall tourists. There was a booth, billed as "El NiƱo Tarantula" in which a little boy stood in a refrigerator box with badly designed spider arms coming out of the box. There was a contest in which you threw beer bottles at other beer bottles, and the prize was a painting of Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns causing him to bleed profusely. You get the idea. You presumed that there was probably some organized crime going on, given the way everybody looked at the two of us so suspiciously, and given the way all of the other tourists avoided the festival.
- The wonderful cuisine. Who would have guessed that a tiny rural town in Mexico would have great italian food, french food, and californian fusion food? I ate sushi for the first time in Sayulita, and now it is a staple of my diet
- Cheeseburgers! The restaurants in Mexico were simply clueless at the idea of ordering a hamburger without cheese. I'd say "Sin Queso, No cheese, no queso," try pantomiming, etc, but, in the end run, like a bad Saturday night live sketch, every hamburger restaurant in town could only make cheeseburgers.
- Our lovable hotel owner saying, "I don't like the chicken fights," and you responding, "Yeah, it's violent." His priceless response, "I prefer the bulls."
- The loud megaphones that played at 6 in the morning that sounded like the type of thing you'd hear from a military junta in a war torn African nation. Instead, it was just people selling fruit.
- The fact that Fox News appears to be the only channel in the English language that gets transmitted down in many parts of Mexico, how weird is that?
- Watching "Mean Girls," and actually liking it.
- Going on the types of waterpark rides that probably would not pass a safety inspection in the United States. Right before they pushed us down the dangerous-enough waterslides, the man who pushed us down on our inner-tubes said "hold on tight," something that you weren't capable of doing. You said afterwards that the thought process went through your head, "well, if this is it, there are worse ways to die."

Ironically, the attempts at boogie-boarding couldn't have failed more miserably, nor could they have succeeded more triumphantly. As you discovered after you got into the water, you could no longer swim. As huge waves, the type of waves for which surfers sought out this tiny village, crashed upon us, you and I began to laugh uncontrollably. It wasn't necessarily at the irony of coming to a town known for its waves when you could no longer swim. Okay, maybe a bit. It wasn't necessarily out of nervous fear, as you could have easily been badly hurt. Okay, maybe a bit. What it was really about was us laughing at the world. The dolphins and the beaches may not have healed you, and they may not have given you a way to beat A.L.S. physically, but they showed us that the world couldn't keep us down. Nobody, not even death, could stop us from enjoying ourselves, from laughing at it all.

And we continue to leave them laughing, don't we?

Happy Birthday, Mom.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Carla. What a glorious son you have.

Kim's Mom

Joanna said...

Brilliant. As always.

What do I remember? Two things. Jake Zilber's play...Carla had to say everything in double pig latin and I had to say it in pig latin...she knew I was scared and she was kind and nurturing as always...and we were pretty damn good..the first play on the LMC stage in 20 years...and the house was packed. How was that possible for this silly play about being stranded on an island?
And her last class at LMC that I was in. And looking at her as we went around the circle and somehow I knew she was just passing through and it was gonna be way too brief and my eyes filled up. She looked at me and smiled. That smile sustains everyone and everything it touches. Always has, Carla and always will. Happy Birthday. The day you were born was a great day for the rest of us. Love, Joanna

Carla Zilbersmith said...

best birthday gift ever....i fucking adore you!

Anonymous said...

Just beautiful, Mac. Thank you. What a perfect gift to give your mom.

I remember . . .

Riding the bus one fall afternoon with you, Carla, in Vancouver. We were perhaps 12 or 13, and on an errand to pick up your first pair of glasses (you needed them; we always had to sit in the front row in class). We collected the glasses and on the way home, I remember your astonishment at how sharp and clear the world was -- the street signs! the leaves! the bus signs! You were seeing it all for the first time. I think about that moment a lot these days, because I think something you've shown us all through this blog is the importance of always seeing everything anew, never taking beauty for granted, appreciating every moment (even if it's just the clarity of a bus sign). I remember giggling on that bus with you, so many years ago, and I like to think that we're still on that bus together, seeing all the wonders around us.

Happy birthday, darling Carla. I love you.

Unknown said...

Happy Day, Carla...I so love reading all of Maclean's and your commentary...makes me laugh and cry so much. You are a blessing in my life---thank you!
Claudia, Kathleen's friend

Anonymous said...

What a remarkable son you have, Carla. Thank you, Maclen, for inspiring me to write.

I remember….

Walking with you through a forest of eucalyptus trees near your house in Albany. You were wearing a gorgeous and lush suede jacket. In August.

Having a long and leisurely beer with you after “The Wedding Singer” at a brew pub somewhere. You, relaxed and happy and mellow, having given it your all in the performance. Me, in awe of what I had just seen you do and the creativity you have.

Strolling, on a humid, sticky June day in Brookline, up and down streets and through neighborhoods in search of your old apartment. You wore a big floppy hat to protect your beautiful fair skin. I also vividly remember the calm joy and peace you felt, just sitting on the floor with 7-month-old Annabel. And how happy you were to be sweaty and hot, you crazy lady.

Walking into our purple room, you lying on a couch with 8-week-old baby Atticus – who cried and needed constant holding by me – peacefully asleep for an hour on top of you. You were in an awkward position, and probably in some pain if not muscle fatigue, but you didn’t move a muscle, savoring that experience of sleeping infant. And I really enjoyed that hour, too, seeing your and his contentment together.

Standing at the edge of a frozen Manchester harbor with you and Annabel on a wind-whipping January day. I took you both down there to feed the ducks. What was I thinking? I think of that day often and shake my head in disbelief. You were a trouper and patient with post-partum me.

Sitting on your orange couch in the Kains Avenue apartment, crying together while we both held Atticus. We have photos documenting this. Also from that trip just after your diagnosis, Annabel asleep on my lap as we had intense discussions. So much love in the room we all had for each other.

Driving to the ferry, through downtown Vancouver, hearing your “Kiss” CD for the first time in the rental car, with you there in the passenger seat. Powerful, beautiful, close, for me, a major memory of my life.

Holding each other tight, feeling fear and grief and pain, at the kitchen island in Roberts Creek, and discovering you and Jason share a similar smell. A smell I love, a smell of Smith.

Knowing you were Jason’s support during my emergency surgery one year ago – that you asked for prayers, and the prayers were received. He needed you. You were there.

Feeling amazed and bummed out that you, with ALS, had to fly cross-country to visit me, with breast cancer. Two young women, so horribly sick. All the family members so concerned about both of us, so helpless to do anything. What horrible luck. My fucking cancer really got in the way of our spending time with you. Jason and I had been talking about renting an apartment in Berkeley to be with you, but then all hell broke loose over here, and we haven’t been able to spend the time we wished. So what a gift it was, your coming to see us last May. Thank you, thank you.

Watching you, Annabel and Atticus play chase around our tiny house (you in the wheelchair), and hide-and-seek (you under a placemat) and batting balloons this spring. The extraordinary effort it took on your part, which you were willing to give, and the squeals of joy and laughter from the kids.

Those are some moments we’ve shared these last 8 years, Carla. And then there’s the atmosphere of our relationship – one, I believe, of deep listening and caring, and of appreciating each other’s complexity and wounds. I love you, and am grateful for the depth of our relationship.

Happy Birthday,

Alison said...

I can't imagine a better gift than this one, Maclen--hats off. You are an amazing 100-year-old Bodhisattva trapped in the body of a 17-year-old college student. (And a beautiful writer.)

I remember so many things, but a few of them are: meeting you, Carla, way back in 1986, in Vancouver, when I slept sardine-like with so many others on the floor of your place, tip-toeing over bodies rolled in sleeping bags in order to go to the bathroom. You were warm, welcoming, gracious, and funny. We were a little rank, having lived in our car for a week.

I remember showing up at your door heartbroken about some jerky guy who shall remain nameless on this blog (but his initials are...) Actually, I am embarrassed to admit, there was more than one jerky heartbreaker. It all seems very trivial now, but at the time it was a Big Deal, and you didn't judge me for my imperfect taste in men, or bad luck, or whatever it was, but opened your arms to me and empathized and bought me flowers.

Flying down to L.A. to see you perform Wedding Singer Blues. How beautiful you were, how you blew me away with the power and range of that piece. And you kept finding new edges in it, new ways to stretch higher, reach deeper. It--and you-- were just getting better and better. I was busting with pride in you.

You showed up at so many of my poetry readings. At one, you brought Maclen--he may have been about ten or eleven--CPS you may want to take notes here-- and the poet I was reading with read a poem that went, "My lover is a woman but sometimes I want a nice hard prick inside of me," or something like that--a great poet, and wonderful person, but perhaps not the best choice of entertainment for your pre-pubescent son. I'm not sure exactly how you tried to distract Maclen or not--I was sitting up front--but later you said you asked him whether he'd understood what she was talking about and he replied in a sublimely indifferent tone, "Yeah, she's a lesbian but she misses having sex with a man."

I remember going for beers at the Albatross with you and Gerry and Christopher after your diagnosis, when you could still walk, but not very well. As the guys supported you out on wobbly legs we joked about how sloshed you had gotten on just one beer.

I remember your generosity to me when I took in Ophelia and was struggling. I remember the passover dinner she and I went to together at your house. She liked you, thought you were classy and beautiful, which you are--and you were incredibly supportive and loving all through that time.

I remember helping to move you out of the house on Madison into your digs on Kains, and how excited you were to set up your own place and you handed me a hammer or something and said, "You're tall, you can hang the curtains," which were those beautiful orange and purple strips and I was completely flummoxed but game.

I remember shopping for my wedding dress for you--it was a big effort for you at that point, a gray and rainy day and I kept saying, "We don't have to do this isf it's too much strain," but you were determined to make sure I didn't end up with something lame, which knowing me, was a possibility. I did buy the first dress I tried on and ended up wearing it, but what I remember as we continued to cruise the Expo, was you saying, "You're too old to go for dowdy," which were words to the wise. i still have that Joan Crawford black velvet on top, stiff blue tulle with a lace overskirt on bottom dress which we agreed to share--you are welcome to wear it any time. i still have to lose the same ten pounds in order for it to be comfortable.

I remember so many performances, mine, yours--mostly yours--and how met I always feel as an artist by you getting all the subtext and the uber-text--and loving the work so much, dying into it every time.

I could go one, but that's enough for now. I love you. Happy Birthday, Carla.

Anonymous said...

I want my kids to grow up just like Maclen. :'-]


Anonymous said...

I am breathless and crying. Happy Birthday Carla... and thank you Maclen for a glimpse into your lives.


Velma said...

Magic Maclen! What a guy- well done!

Here's my story:

Carla’s first punch line?

A favourite “Carla” memory of mine happened about the time of her second birthday and there hasn’t been a single December since then, I haven’t thought of it.
Her baby brother, Stephen, was born prematurely a month earlier and was still in the hospital, so as both birthday and Christmas approached, we drove in the family car to visit the new baby. As her dad wheeled down Kingsway, Carla was sitting on my lap (it was allowed in those pre-seat-belt days) chattering away happily.
“Mommy- tell me the story about the man who got sick.”
“What story, honey? I don’t know any story about a man who got sick.”
“Yes you do” she chirped, “you tell me that story all the time.”
“I don’t know the story you’re talking about honey, I can’t think of any stories about a man who got sick.”
“You do know it!” -this time more insistently-
“Don’t you remember?” she asked. And then explained-
“Away to the window, he flew like a flash- tore open the shutters and

I love you, my beautiful girl- Happy Birthday!-mom

Anonymous said...

i remember with clarity the day i met you - recently - after all this time reading your blog. it was after the end of the Shawn Colvin concert at Yoshi's in SF. all i seemed to be able to say to you were things enmeshed with the word "fucking." and you laughed and smiled, and all your "mates" - standing behind your wheelchair - did the same. it was a total privelege for me, unexpectedly, to lay eyes on you, finally, in person that day. it is a day i will always remember and never forget. thanks for all that you have brought to my life. you are the most amazing person i have ever met in person - only once.

love love love anonymous/nonanonymous ~WLS~

Anonymous said...

I don't know you personally - Carla or Mac - but have been a follower of this blog for the last couple of years and both of you share a special place in my heart (generally reserved for those I have known forever). This post has inspired me to dig deep through the layers of memory to take note of those moments I have had with the ones dearest to me. To make a record and share with them so that they will always know how much they mean to me. Thank you for the inspiration. And for the reminder that every moment shared with someone you love is a joy, no matter how painful, simply because it is a moment shared.

--lisa o

Jason E. Smith said...

Maclen -- It's been said over and over again, and it's true, you're an amazing guy. You have a heart at least as big as your intellect.

A couple of things I remember:

Doing dishes in the kitchen on Wiltshire St. while you, Carla, sat at the table and described for me, in detail my young imagination couldn't even comprehend, the mysteries of first base, second base, third base, and home plate.

The best duet ever:

"Who invented music?
We'd like to shake his hand.
Cause music cast a spell on us
That we can't understand.

Must be some musician
Designed a magic plan.
He changed his wand to a baton
And that's how it all began."

Years later you would ask me to do another duet with you for a recital you gave in Vancouver. You thought it would be funny to do "Baby, It's Cold Outside." I was too focused on getting the words and the tune right, so I couldn't help you inject any of the required irony into the song. I think it must have just seemed weird and somewhat incestuous to the audience.

Again on Wiltshire -- I borrowed your bicycle and tried to fill up the tires, but I put too much air in the rear tire and it exploded. I dragged your bike all the way home, crying. I thought you would be mad and yell at me. But you were more concerned about me than the bike. You were very loving and comforting.

When Allison and I were married, you gave an amazing speech. But before that you made sure I got lunch, you helped me rehearse "My One and Only Love" to sing later to Allison, while we drove around doing last minute errands for the wedding. And when the evening was over and Allison and I went back to our room, you had already been there to fill the room with candles and rose petals. Best best man, ever!

And best sister, ever, by far. I love you, Carla. Happy Birthday.


Anonymous said...

I remember being in AWOL when i was just getting to know Carla and thinking she was so cool and fun and a total babe. She seemed like the perfect woman, totally on top of her shit, confidant, smart, funny ... everything a girl could want in a role model. I wished so much that my dad wasn't such an incompetent dud with females so he could woo her and make her be my step-mom.

Anonymous said...

I read your gorgeous letter early this morning and it's been with me all day long. It's just about the most beautiful letter I could imagine from a son to a mother. I'm smiling, crying, smiling. Thank for this gift to all of us.

Anonymous said...

Through my tears sweet girl I say "you done good" what a remarkable young man you have raised. Bless you both.

Love, Pat

Unknown said...

Mac -- You continue to delight and amaze Carla and give the rest of us hope for a better future. What a perfect birthday gift for Carla this is (following an equally exquisite tribute Carla gave to her dad on his). All who follow this blog love Carla and think of you as family, too. You are Carla’s gift to the world and you can bet we’ll be keeping an eye on you! Love to you and to Carla and thank you for adding so much meaning, perspective and color to my life and to so many others. Jeannine

Anonymous said...

Is there a dry eye in the house?

Happy birthday Carla.

I will always remember trying to help you make pasties for your wedding and you practicing your strip tease.

I've been in awe ever since.
xo Susan

Unknown said...

I remember so many occasions with Carla when it should have been impossible to have found the humor in the situation. But it wasn't impossible for Carla. A recent example being the suppository misplacement she mentioned in a previous blog. I was chatting with Carla when her caregiver lost her way, Carla's eyes got big, and without missing a beat, she instructed, "If it feels like the Grand Canyon, it's not my asshole!"

I also remember countless occasions when Carla and I discussed your well-being Mac. It is THE most important thing to her. So to read you so beautifully describe the smile that washed over your face like hot cocoa when you realized that "everything was going to be fucking terrible, but it was also going to be all right" made me cry.
Because you being all right is what matters most to your mom (and to the rest of us who love you so dearly).


Vicky said...

Carla and Maclen, Alison directed me to your blog. I had the honor and delight of watching you perform to a kinda small audience at La Fonda Theater in LA. Alison was staying with me at the time, I think. The show was fabulous and I realized that Alison had not been exaggerating when she had raved about your talent. I saw the promo for your documentary, directed to it again, by Alison, and made a small contribution. Wish I could have afforded more.

What a beautifully written and expressed contribution by Maclen. What a special, special relationship you two have. I work with teenagers daily, and sometimes I see close relationships between mothers and sons that are not perhaps the healthiest. Reading this amazing tribute and account of your time togeter, I can see that you two have a unique and magical and perfect relationship, and that it is something to treasure. I am so touched to read this. It is an honor to peek into your lives.

I wish you both a peaceful experience in what is to come. I send you my warmest wishes.

Teresa said...

Wow, Thank you for sharing your gift to Carla. A beautiful piece of profound magnitude.

amberesque said...

Happy Birthday Carla- from a museling inspired by your strength, bravery and incredible writing talent.

Your words make this harrowing slam dance a poetic exploration.

And the love expressed in writings from all those around you is sublime and no doubt has healing powers too(Mac,Jeannine,allison... thank you)
-Amber in LA

Anonymous said...

Just went on line and bought all of your CD's that I didn't already have.
Your latest is AMAZING.

I especially love the No Stirring Song.

This whole CD is priceless.

Susan P.

Anonymous said...

Maclen - you are nothing short of AMAZING. what a wonderful tribute to your dear mom. thank you for being the man that you are and having the utmost respect and love for dear Carla - it is clear that you share a very special bond. take care.

Clive Bridges said...

I remember about 5 years ago returning to COM to do a theatre improv class with Carla. I hadn't seen her in a few years (I'd done a year or two's theatre classes and performances with her back around the turn of the millenium - I remember Maclen as a six-year-old patiently waiting through rehearsals of Summer of the Black Sun) and I slipped quietly into the room with all the other new students. When Carla spotted me in the crowd she gave out a little yelp and announced that she was going to do a little dance, which she proceeded to do, right there in front of the class. It made me feel like a million dollars....

Hugo said...

A little late on commenting on this blog.

Maclen--you're a lucky son, and Carla, you're a very lucky mom, but its less luck than the fact that you two are so big in each other's lives, helping each other, collaborating on projects-- for a pair that loves crass jokes--you two are probably the cutest mother-son team in all existence. There should be a disney movie or something.

I remember doing the satire at COM before the arnold election. I played Gary Coleman--and I didn't prepare--and was really really awful. I figured that I could just use variations of "Whatchu talking about Arnold?" or "Huffington?" and that that would work. Sadly, people had heard that joke many times before.

I wish I remembered more anecdotes---it feels like in AWOL we would live so much in so little time, creating such insanity, and failure, and temporary brilliance-- that its so hard to pick out something.

I remember how good your last show was, and the show before, and the one before that.

I remember our little shoot with you, and how you, with ALS were doing a much better job acting than I was at holding a pop tart box held by a string. (?) Then the boys got nude and into bed.(!!!???)

I remember War and Peacemeal had some brilliant moments-- moments that I'll always remember.


Anonymous said...

Carla, this may seem inappropriate to post here, but I wonder if you or your caregivers have heard of Fleet liquid glycerin suppositories? They are in my opinion much better than regular ones -- less messy and easier to use, and very effective. The liquid is contained in a tiny little plastic bulb with a lubricated tip that is inserted and squeezed. You can find them in most drugstores or on They might have saved you the "lesbian experience" you wrote of recently. (You can delete this from the comment section if you'd like!)
On another note, I don't have many memories because I've only met you briefly a couple of times, but I have to say your writings and your performances have impressed and affected me deeply. I remember when I bumped into you at an event last year and you introduced me to your brother with such warmth and generosity. I was touched to be included in that way for a moment in your world, especially since you hardly knew me. Thank you for sharing your life in this blog, and for giving so much in the ways that you have.
~with love,

Anonymous said...

On my way to Tahoe yesterday I listened to your CD Uncovered. When it got to I'll Be Seeing You I was weeping, trying to avoid losing all sense of driving through deadly Donner Pass and getting creamed by tractor trailers, not able to pull over and realizing fully in that moment what an AMAZING gift you have bestowed on all of us with your life. I can only hope we'll all be seeing you forever and ever and ever. "I'll find you in the morning sun, my son....." It will blow anyone who hears it far and away...J

Warren, Co-founder, MDA's Wings Over Wall Street® said...

I arrived at the front door with the sign that warned all visitors to make sure that they weren't sick if they planned to come in. It wasn't like the gruesome warning symbol of a head on a pike, but you knew something bad was happening inside. For me, there was a familiarity about this that forced thousands of memories to the surface. I was entering a house where ALS had moved in. I knew this house well, since I had lived in one too. Yet the dark spectre of what ALS is and means was quickly banished by the light, humor, positive energy, love, and beauty that is Carla. It was like a Hollywood celebrity sighting! There she was, just as I had seen her in the trailer of Leave Them Laughing. Quickly, at least to me, we connected on a many levels. How can you just meet someone and feel such love and admiration? Who the heck knows, but it happened. We sat outside in her garden on a beautiful afternoon and shared our thoughts, laughter, tears, and singleminded desire to fight this horrific disease. I wanted to stay, to help, to make things better. I also knew I couldn't. These powerful thoughts and feelings surge to the surface whenever ALS tries to take another beautiful human being away from me and us. Now, I remember just being with Carla and feeling that our connection, albeit a long-distance one, would not be broken by time or distance. We are forever linked by something horrible, yet it is the beauty of who she is, her positive effect on so many, the sparkle in her eyes, and the love that she gives that triumphs. Thank you Carla for giving me an opportunity to be a small part of your life. Thank you for giving us Mac, whose story is only just unfolding. Thank you for all you do to raise awareness and money to cure ALS. Happy Birthday to you Carla! And F ALS!
Your friend forever,

Anonymous said...

My current fondest memory (I chuckle over this one daily) is how Carla cracked me up while watching the monster in "Young Frankenstein" take it's first assisted steps. Carla, "So that's what we look like when we water walk!" -which fortunately is something no one else will ever see thanks to the editor of "Leave Them Laughing"!
--Maclen, you're awesome! ...big hug and lots of love, Linda.

Your Eternal Neighbor! said...

I remember you lovingly holding Eliana when she was just born, and giving us two CDs of music, and counseling me to hold on in every way in those early years of motherhood -- and the inspiration of your strength and honesty and humor and presence -- the way I first saw you, flame-haired, big trousers, from behind and, not having spoken with you yet, sensed your larger-than-life presence; the way I could tell (at Seders, or open-air theater events at College of Marin) you reflected your students and friends with such loving candor, everyone felt seen; the beauty of your singing, from a cover of Blackbird on the CD you gave us to that last performance (at Sylvia's?) in Berkeley, when you sang Death, you're my other lover; the way you counseled me about others' dying.

The way you made your heart and home so open to us.

I think you must give so many this feeling: I felt we were only beginning a friendship, that there were volumes we could have explored together (given the rare combination of humor, loving warmth, and truth-telling).

And please let me know if I can help your work find publication.