BUT NOT FOR LUNCH
They say that the secret to a happy marriage is to be married for better, for worse, but not for lunch. My husband and I were the exception that proved that rule. We were husband and wife; we were parents together; we were best friends; and we were screenwriting partners. One-stop shopping.
When he died four-plus years ago, not one aspect of my life remained in tact. Our lives were so intertwined, like the branches of a grafted tree, that there was not one arena – physical, emotional, professional – untouched. The devastation was as absolute, as total, as if a tsunami had wiped out the entire village that was my life.
I thought: I will never be able to write a screenplay again, not with an empty chair across our partner’s desk from me.
And, I haven’t. Not yet anyway. (One of the things I have learned in the past four years is that the other old expression is true: Never say never.) But just because I could not stare at a blank screen and type the words, “Fade In,” does not mean that the writer in me had died. So I began to write. Same desk. Same screen. Same sensibility. Different voice. I began to write a memoir, which grew up to be “AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life.”
The process of writing prose was a revelation. People ask if it was cathartic. The answer is “No.” Not really. It was a relief. Grieving is exhausting. It is a lot like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. You are always doing two things at once. I am sitting across the dinner table from a friend, but what I am really doing is grieving. I am watching a movie, but what I am really doing is grieving. I am at the symphony, but what I am really doing is grieving. The business of grieving takes no time off. No matter what distractions or how active a social life you throw at it. Those things just drive it further underground, forcing it to fight harder for attention.
But when I was writing, I was all in one place – body, mind, and heart. Although that was an agonizing place to be, there was relief in being all in one place, in allowing the grieving to take center stage.
And in that process, something else happened. A sort of artistic transmogrification. Though at the time I felt like I was writing a love letter to my husband – that’s what compelled me – I realize now that I was also reclaiming myself. As a writer. I was affirming, “This is something I can still do. This is still who I am.” They say that stories save our lives. I believe that’s true. But for those of us who write, storytelling saves our lives even more.
With her husband, filmmaker Laurence Starkman, she wrote twelve feature screenplays; they also served as rewrite guns-for-hire. The team of Malden & Starkman wrote and produced the short romantic comedy Whit & Charm, which screened at eight major film festivals, including The Hamptons, and won several awards. They also wrote and created a series of Cine Golden Eagle Award-winning Art History films produced in association with The Detroit Institute of Art and The National Gallery.
Along with her father, Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden, Carla co-authored his critically acclaimed memoir, When Do I Start?, published by Simon & Schuster.
AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life delivers a fiercely personal account of her battling the before and surviving the after of losing her husband to cancer. It offers an alert for an entire generation: this is not your mother’s widowhood.
Carla Malden lives in Brentwood, California where she is currently completing her first novel as well as a children’s book illustrated by her daughter, Cami Starkman.
Visit her website at http://www.carlamalden.com/.
Readers, Carla is giving away a copy of AfterImage to a random commenter. The contest is open to everyone. To enter, you first need to leave a question or comment for Carla and then to complete your entry, leave your email address in your comment. The winner will be chosen on Sunday, May 22.