In her own words, “ Kelly Carlin is a thinker, writer, talker and doodler. She’s funny, serious, silly and deep. Sometimes she wishes she were Carol Burnett, other days it’s Patti Smith, but mostly it’s Oprah Winfrey. It’s complicated.” She is also a performer and story-teller based in LA, and as you might have guessed, is the daughter of comedy legend, George Carlin.
This interview was conducted via email and is by no means exhaustive or in-depth, but rather about one topic: Uncomfortable conversations. Based around a Facebook post (copied below), we had a brief chat about tackling difficult topics. She took way more time than is necessary to talk to a nobody, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.
Here, verbatim, is our exchange:
Please forgive me in advance for the fanboy gushing. I’m absolutely honoured to be talking with you! I doubt you’ll remember, but some years back in the old official Carlin FB page (before it became unrelated memes), I posted a couple old drawings and photos that you commented on – and I reacted with all the subtlety of the nerd that I am talking to the prom queen (“Oh god, she noticed me!”)
I like your posts because you have a knack for relating issues that are personal, cultural, political, and global. This post (which will be included below) was all about uncomfortable discussions and not knowing how to have them. Obviously, up to, during, and after your election (I’m Canadian), you and most others have been very vocal about politics. And now that High Emperor Trump has been elected, is it about time for America to have a veeerry uncomfortable discussion; about sexism, racism, the economy, morals? Do you think it can?
I really think if we don’t learn to have difficult conversations in our own lives, we can’t have them as a nation. Being an adult means learning to broach topics that make us feel icky while maintaining relationships. Learning to listen to each other, really hearing what people are saying, and then allowing that person’s truth to penetrate us beyond our arguments is hard. And also learning to ask for what we want without making the other wrong is a huge challenge. This nation needs marriage counseling.
Before I get all high and mighty, it’s worth pointing out that Canada needs to have its own discussion about how we treat our First Nations. After each high-publicity mass shooting, there’s always a call for a “national dialogue” on gun safety and mental illness, but now it feels like such a hollow statement. It’s like we can talk about talking about these things, but they still can’t be talked about; baby steps? Do you think we’ve lost the ability to have these conversations, or with the echo chamber of social media, has it simply become easier to avoid them altogether? Ironically, in such a polarized time and environment.
Social media has definitely added to the atrophying of civil discourse. We’re all on our own soap boxes, typing text into a little box. 90% of communication is non-verbal. Let me repeat that: 90% of communication is non-verbal. We are animal bodies picking up cues from each other about safety, acceptance, alignment, etc. Social media puts the speaker and the listener into a different mode. I’d love to see all the research on this stuff.
Uncomfortable discussions can range from petty; XBox vs. PlayStation (PlayStation!), to important issues; PlayStation vs. PC (sorry, nerd jokes). And they don’t always have to be between two people; sometimes it’s an internal monologue. From age 10 til about 21/22, I never seriously sought help for my depression because I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Do you think a fear of one is indicative of a fear of the other? Sort of a chicken or the egg type situation.
This is where my Buddhist meditation training has helped me so much. It is literally about learning to sit with your own thoughts and feelings, good, bad and ugly and observe them. Sitting with what is uncomfortable is the greatest gift you can learn to give yourself. No, it does not mean enduring abuse or danger, it means learning that your own feelings and thoughts are ultimately fleeting (as is you life) and that you do not die from sitting with a feeling and not acting on it. Mindfulness could save the world.
Like performing, do these things only improve by doing it?
You’ve been a storyteller for over a decade; did your early work reflect themes like this?
I’d say underneath all my work is always the theme of learning to come to terms with all of the parts of myself, and learn to love them.
Oh, how the random things on Facebook weirdly reflect my personal life! Just last week, I was talking with my dad about dealing with discomfort; in relationships, with parents, with friends. And a couple days ago, I read an article about how the “other side” of an argument isn’t necessarily stupid (https://medium.com/@SeanBlanda/the-other-side-is-not-dumb-2670c1294063#.t1m99yzbc) and how none of us want to be proven wrong – good thing I’m almost always right! Does it get easier as you get older to accept other views or harder?
Only if you practice to do it. Learning to move around multiple perspectives keeps the ego in check, increases empathy and creativity.
Nobody likes confrontation, and you’re right when you say it doesn’t suit us evolutionary; it doesn’t behoove me to ask poisonous snake how it thinks I feel about being bitten. It’s better to just run. What do you feel we have to gain as individuals and as a people by bettering ourselves in this skill?
I think learning to have differences without dehumanizing the other person is essential if we are to survive as a species. It is a higher order of thinking than our tribal brains are wired for and so we must use effort and will to do it.
Some of the musicians I’ve spoken to just tend to write words at first, only realizing their own meaning after the fact. Is this how you found yourself writing your memoir, or was the intention to have that difficult conversation there from the beginning?
I wanted to writer my survivors story having made it to the other side of my dysfunctional family, alcoholic/addicted parents, my own addictions, panic attacks, abusive relationships. In order to do that, I had to speak truth to all that allowed it to unfold.
Since we talked about it briefly…. Spirited Away! What about that movie grabs you? I’ve heard nothing but good things, but I have yet to see any of Miyazaki’s movies. I am dumb.
It’s archetypal and beyond the rational. It is mythological in that you are swept into things that are bigger than you.
Like most conversations (and I can’t speak for you), but this was a little uncomfortable because I’m a nervous, panicky Pete. But I thank you profusely and I hope to talk to you again in the future!
Is she fuckin cool, or what?
Kelly Carlin’s media:
The original post: https://www.facebook.com/kellycarli…