Thursday, June 10, 2010

Maclen Muses: My Eulogy To Carla Zilber-Smith

Hi Muselings, this is Carla's son, Maclen, and, by popular demand, my final post on this blog will be the eulogy that I delivered for Carla at her Memorial.


Carla Zilber-Smith was my mom, but she was also my best friend. My hero. My creative collaborator of choice. My confidant, advisor, supporter, travel buddy. If she was “like a mother” to scores of individuals, she was more than a mother to me.

When Carla was diagnosed with ALS, on December 26th, 2007, I was brought to my knees. Serene as always, she held me as I wept for a dozen hour-long minutes. She gave the emotional moment its due and then said, “Now, you know what I want to do while I can still walk? Go boogie boarding in Zijuatanejo.”

We ended up going to a small town called Sayulita, because it had better waves for boogie-boarding. When we got in the water, it was apparent that she could no longer swim. You know what Carla did? She laughed. And we laughed at the waves, we laughed at the world, and we laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

On the last day of Carla’s life, still indefatigable, despite having not eaten for three weeks, she said “this has been the funnest death day ever.”

On that day, I read her a piece that I had written for her a year after her diagnosis, and she said, “have I really been dying for that long? I’m a slowpoke.” Deathbed humor, literally.

In that piece, I asked how can one sum up the life of somebody who squeezed 80 years of happiness and 80 years of pain into 47 years. Carla Zilbersmith as not a professor, a singer, a blogger, an actress, a director, a writer, a comic, or a dying woman, she was a bard. A professional human being. She was what a renaissance man would be like if they had a sense of style and didn’t wear those silly tights. She was a method actress, playing the roll of Carla Zilbersmith to a T. People often want to know what they can do for her, for me, and the answer is to take that vacation you’ve been thinking about. Enjoy yourself in her honor. Go on a hot air balloon ride, or go skydiving. Go to the library, pick out a random recipe from a random cookbook, and cook it for a randomly chosen friend. Live the shit out of your life. That’s what it’s for, isn’t it?

Why would a woman like this get a disease like this? Random fucking chance. But this is not a tragedy. Tragic, is what you call somebody who lives to 60...70...80...90 and never for a DAY lives the way that Carla lived nearly every day of her life. Tragic, is those of you who let this event stop YOU from living the way Carla lived every day of her life. Tragic, is the fact that, the less Carla Zilbersmiths there are in the world, the less people are going to be called on their shit, the less people are going to be changed, and the less people are going to learn to really live their life. The odds are that Carla isn't the only one here who isn't going to reach fifty. Sound depressing? Well, it shouldn't be. We need to start playing by our own rules, the way my mom did for 47 hilarious and tearful years, because we shouldn't need a crisis like this to trigger us to live our lives, nor should we need a human being such as Carla Zilbersmith to trigger us to live our lives. So let's keep living it, let's keep living it, really living it. The help that Carla and I have received from her legions of friends has done nothing short of reaffirming my faith in the human condition, but do you want to know what Carla really wants you to do? Use humor to take arms against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. When it rains, think dry skies, and when it’s gray, think bright lights. When there’s pain, just smile, smile. Find happiness on even the worst day. Find love wherever the hell you can, because there’s nothing else any of us can do. If life gives you lemons, say, “hey life, give me some sugar, water, and vodka, I’m gonna make some party lemonade.”

I love my mom, and I’m crushed that my time with her has come to a close, but I am grateful that she is free of her suffering now. I am grateful that she lives on in albums of beautiful music. Not just those that she wrote, but those that were meaningful to her. Vita Brevis, Ars Longa. I am grateful that she lives on in two books worth of blog posts, which will someday give my future children an idea of the type of advice their grandmother would have given them. I am more than grateful that she will live on in the memories of those who she touched, those she made laugh, and the scores of people who she doesn’t even know whose lives have been changed by her writings, her songs, her teaching, her advice, or her life story. And I hope, more than anything, that she lives on through a conscious effort by each and every one of you to push the boundaries of what you’re comfortable with. To do something wacky and creative that you’ve always wanted to try. Even just to make an inappropriate joke because it’s fucking worth it.

I have worn two personalized wristbands on account of Carla, and I think they show the two sides of her philosophical coin. This one says “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” “through the thorns to the stars.” It means that you should strive to do what you want to do even in the face of difficulties placed in your path. The other wristband, which I don’t have with me, says “Give up.” It was an ironic parody Carla created of inspirational wristbands, like “Livestrong,” but I think it also had a powerful message. The first noble truth in Buddhism is that there is suffering. I believe that “Give Up” simply acknowledges that we aren’t going to be able to avoid the painful part of life. In conjunction, Carla’s philosophies of “Give Up” and “Ad Astra Per Aspera” say that life is going to happen to you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t happen to life.

Thank you all for everything.


And that's all, folks. I hope you have enjoyed the wonderful and sometimes tearful ride that this blog has been. If you haven't gotten enough of it, the Documentary based on this blog, "Leave Them Laughing," directed by Oscar-Winning Director John Zaritsky, is making the rounds at festivals as we speak. Additionally, there may in the future be a book in the works about Carla, so you may hear more about that in the future.

Carla's Surprise Goodbye

For those of you who were not at Carla's memorial, here is the link to uTube where her surprise goodbye to us all was shown publicly for the first time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Carla's Self-Penned Obituary

Carla Zilbersmith, born December 15, 1962, died May 17th, 2010. Carla Zilbersmith died in her home of Lou Gherig's disease, also known as ALS. Carla Zilbersmith was mother to Maclen Zilber, her only son...that she knows of. She was also daughter to Jack and Velma, sister to Jason and Stephen. Friend to an amazing group of caring, creative and competent friends, and lover to several very lucky and largely undeserving men. Although ALS is a fatal and incurable illness, Carla never gave up hope that one day her death would be surrounded by a cloud of controversy and speculation. Her final words, spoken through a clenched jaw were "oil can."

Dear Friends and Fans of Carla,
We regret that due to the size of the venue, Carla's memorial will be private. We understand the love and admiration she inspired and welcome everyone to share their favorite funny memories of her here, and encourage you to create your own memorials with the friends in your circle. Memorial gifts are welcome to a variety of places.

1. CPMC Foundation (Forbes
Norris ALS Clinic), 2015 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94115. Please note on the check, "In memory of Carla Zilbersmith."

2. The Documentary Film about Carla:Leave Them Laughing

3. The Carla Zilbersmith Performing Arts Scholarship Fund at Los Medanos
Specify the specific scholarship please

4. The Carla Zilbersmith Drama
Scholarship Fund through the College of Marin Foundation, P.O. Box 446,
Kentfield 94914.

TEAM CARLA! Bike Ride to defeat ALS team with Carla's caregivers