Saturday, May 29, 2010


This is a rare entry on the blog.

For the first time the categories that fit include both "Death, Funny" and "Death, Unfunny."

Carla Zilbersmith, who died on May 17th at the age of 47, was handed a death sentence with the diagnosis of ALS…but was determined to make the most of the time she had left, and to laugh in the Grim Reaper's face. Like Warren Zevon, she became the subject of a documentary intended to chronicle the way an artist confronts death and turns the struggle into an art form. Warren lived long enough to see his grandchild and his last album hit the charts. Carla lived long enough to present comedy sketches about death on stage, make some music, and see her documentary completed.

For a long time, she didn't let ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease) destroy her sense of humor the way it did her body. She often mentioned how much she hated having Lou Gherig's Disease because…she didn't like baseball. She wished there was a basketball version instead. Like "Wilt Chamberlain's Disease…you have sex 20,000 times and then you die."

In 2008 she put together a production at the College of Marin's Studio Theater where she worked in the drama department for over a dozen years. "This'll be my last show," she declared. "Then I'm outta here. Literally." A beat. "Just a little death humor. Relax, it won't kill you." Another show was titled "Leave Them Laughing." The flame-haired actress loved to put together skits and improv evenings, and was part of a troupe called "We're Redheads." She also had a deep love of music, and she was a finalist at a Lilith Fair and released several indie CDs. To quote the CD Baby website, would be "Recommended if you like Diana Krall, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin."

Things remained fairly funny, at least at times, for Carla, who blogged back on February 1, 2010 about writing a book called "What to Expect When You're Expiring," subtitled: "How I survived an incurable, fatal illness…then died."

Her blog entries became a lot more grim after that, because "Fuck. I'm not just faking this. I really am dying." Her blog is, which you can also reach via: Among her fascinating entries is the long February 4th essay on what it's like to have ALS. In part: "You lose sleep...You lie awake, wondering about death, loss and when and how it will all happen. Later, you lose sleep because your blanket falls off you and you aren’t strong enough to lift it back up or you swallow too much air with your breathing machine and get nauseous and burpy. Or maybe you accidentally roll on your back and you can’t roll back to your side. It’s too hard to breathe when you’re lying on your back.
You’re tired a lot. This seems like the cruelest loss of all. Each nap represents hours that can’t be returned. Hours that you’re running out of…You get tired eating. Chewing is an effort and swallowing has to be done with full and complete attention on the task. Choking might kill you…You are 100% dependent on other people. You begin needing a helper first thing in the morning for dressing and showers and last thing in the evening for the reverse. Then you need someone to cook for you, to do your make-up, and pretty soon you can’t cook or serve food. When you can no longer use the toilet by yourself or bring your hand to your mouth to eat or lift a glass of water to drink you need full-time care. This is not only challenging to your privacy, but it’s impossible to afford on a long-term basis. With caregiver bills and other related expenses in the 12,000-15,000 a month area you face the sad fact that there is an up-side to the fact that you are dying, which is that you can’t really afford to live much longer anyway. You are never alone except when you are in bed and a feeling of dread comes over you when you wonder what will happen if you get trapped under the covers and can’t reach the bell for help…"

Some bloggers giggle as they post their five fresh 320 bit and FLAC albums a day, doing it only to get a "nice" comment and pretend to be in show business, as if it takes any skill to throw old Jethro Tull albums on Rapidshare that you could find in a dollar bin if you really cared. On Carla's Blogspot site she was giving what bloggers should be giving...originality, emotional honesty, and insights that serve others as much as they might serve themselves. One blog entry helped her through an unglamorous night:

"It’s somehow coming to the conclusion that the only way to make this night tolerable is write a blog (maybe the first ever) while on the toilet unable to shit….It’s feeling a fist sized shit rip your asshole open and not being able to bear down or catch a breath. It’s that you have this feeling not once but twice in one day even though you cut out morphine and had a prune smoothie. It’s 21 drugs and counting and wondering when you will be dubbed the fucking Baskin Robbins of pill poppers...
It’s paying a heavy price for every fun day…It’s running out of words but still not passing this fucking ball of shit. It’s realizing that life is a no good rotten man who beats on you and cheats on you….It’s knowing that someone is going to commiserate with you by saying, “Girl, I know what you mean. I was constipated once” and you are going to have to bite your tongue and not say, “Unless you have ALS, you do NOT know how I feel unless you’ve rubbed a cheese grater across your asshole for a good 10 minutes at least.”

On March 23rd, she scheduled "A Night of Gratitude. A Special Evening with Carla Zilbersmith." She was trying to communicate, to create art, and to keep on living, despite an illness that was hell bent on grinding her to a halt and keeping her in purgatory before releasing her to oblivion. And so there was the documentary, and there was the satisfaction in her album "Songs ABout Love, Death and Wings." Some of the tunes were grim and others philosophical and touched with wistfulness. A few were written as loving farewells. Perhaps they mix with something she said a few years ago, as the disease began to progress: " "I have a more Buddhist view these days, that life is mostly suffering, that the peace we seek must be found within ourselves."

Your sample is "Don't Save Me."

This blog wants you to read Carla's blog, and get to know Carla's music. Carla blogged this line: "You want people to see how easy it would be for them to wake up one morning and decide to give up their self-inflicted pain and enjoy their wonderful life. How easy it is to have a great day when you can make and eat you own toast, throw on your own clothes, go out into the world and do whatever you damn well feel like. You want people to live all the life you’re going to miss."

CARLA ZILBERSMITH - DON'T SAVE ME Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, pop-unders, porn ads or wait time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ill Folks for revealing Carla's blog and spirit to me. She, along with you, shine! Good show.