The Map to Nowhere

About three years ago, I was knee deep in grief about my father’s death.  I was about six months into my new life without him, and I was feeling even more confused about life than the day he had died.  All that I had assumed about who I was (life coach and workshop leader), where I was going (working with colleagues on exciting leadership programs around the world) and what I was here to do (showing how authentic vulnerability is an essential quality of leadership) had been flung up into the air and it was a jumbled mess. 


I was now actively taking care of my father’s legacy (he was the comedian George Carlin), immersed in the world of the entertainment industry after leaving it behind five years earlier, and being embraced by a comedy community that I had never connected with before.   Although this may sound thrilling and most exciting, I felt lost in a desert without a map.   I spoke with a wise friend and teacher Patrick Ryan about this.  I really wanted Patrick to whip out a fresh map for me one with roads clearly marked, and an X on the spot where the treasure could be easily found, and say, “All you have to do is go here, turn left, veer right, and you can’t miss it.”  Instead, in a typical Patrick way he said, “Well, your job now is to be lost in the desert and report back to us what it is like there.”  A rush of relief swam through my body.   Strange.

Most of my life I have felt embattled between my strategic mind, with its plans, ideas and “maps,” and the messiness of life, with its surprises, confusions and organic unfolding.  I have always felt that the only way to be successful was to figure out the exact steps that are needed to get from here to there, and keep your head down and march along dutifully.  But inevitably, I would immediately hate the drudgery of this approach.  This would lead me to self-destructive behaviors that would undermine my grand plan, and then I would hate myself for ruining my chances of success.  I would then turn to the “anything goes” approach to life, letting the externals of events and others’ opinions shape my trajectory.  Although less drudgery was involved with this strategy, the amount of internal chaos it created was always intolerable too.

As I took Patrick’s words to heart and was willing to witness where I found my self in this new life landscape fatherless, motherless (I lost my mom in 1997), and with a whole new pile of life opportunities, I knew that somewhere between my strategic mind and the messiness of life there was a map.  I knew that it would not be accessible unless I was willing to be still, witness, listen, feel my inner most urges, and allow visions of possibility to emerge organically.

Three years later, last Wednesday, in fact, I woke up to find that the New York Times wanted to talk to me.  It seems that some path had emerged in my life these last few years and had lead me to an “X on a map” – the premiere of my radio show The Kelly Carlin Show on SiriusXM satellite radio.   The funny thing is that if you were to pick up that map, you would not see a clearly marked road to “somewhere.”  Instead you’d only see where I have been.  You see, I now know you can’t make a map until you have traversed the territory.  You can’t show the way, until you have walked the way.  And most importantly, you can’t buy, make or chart a map of the unknown.  It’s just not possible.   And this is a huge relief to me.



My Favorite Books List

Today on Twitter, I connected with a new fan, @UltraLibIan, who listens to my podcast Waking from the American Dream, and wanted to know about the books I read. So, here's a list of books that represent my most eclectic polymind.

Depth psychology:
Memories, Dreams, Reflections - Carl Jung
Boundaries of the Soul: the Practice of Jung’s Psychology - June Singer
Ego and Archetype - Edward F. Edinger
The Soul’s Code - James Hillman
Revisioning Psychology - James Hillman
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse - James Hllman and Michael Ventura 
A Jospeh Campbell Companion - Diane K. Osbon
Joseph Campbell/The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers
Truly any book by Joseph Campbell, James Hollis or Robert A. Johnson

The Book - Alan Watts
This is It - Alan Watts
The Way of Zen - Alan Watts
Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Miracle of Mindfulness - Thich Nhat Hahn
Peace is Every Step - Thich Nhat Hahn
Awakening The Buddha Within - Lama Surya Das
A Path With Heart - Jack Kornfield
Thoughts Without A Thinker - Mark Epstein
Any book by Pema Chodron

Integral Philosophy:
A Brief History of Everything - Ken Wilber 
The Integral Vision - Ken Wilber
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - Ken Wilber
Integral Psychology - Ken Wilber
Spiral Dynamics - Don Beck
The Radiance of Being - Allan Combs

New Age Thinking:
Quantum Psychology - Robert Anton Wilson
The Tao of Physics - Fritof Capra
Dancing Wu Li Masters - Gary Zukav
The Seat of the Soul - Gary Zukav
Das Energi - Paul Williams
Illusions - Richard Bach

Life Coaching Kind of Stuff:
The Art of Possibility - Zander and Zander
Finding Flow Mihaly - Csikszentmihalyi
Fearless Living - Rhonda Britten
Loving What Is - Byron Katie
The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz 

Leadership and the New Science - Margaret Wheatley
Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership - Joseph Jaworski 
Leadership and Self-deception - The Arbinger Institute
Servant Leadership - Robert Greenleaf
Presence - Jaworski, Senge, Wheatley and Scharmer
The Fifth Discipline - Peter M. Senge
Leadership from the Inside Out - Kevin Cashman

Bird by Bird - Anne Lammott
Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg
The Arist Way - Julia Cameron
The Right to Write - Julia Cameron
Unreliable Truth - Maureen Murdock
The War of Art - Steven Pressfield
Writing from the Inside Out - Dennis Palumbo
Writing for Your Life - Deena Metzger
Fearless Creating - Eric Maisel
The Heart Aroused - David Whyte
Crossing the Unknown - Sea David Whyte
If You Want to Write - Brenda Ueland
The Writing Life - Annie Dillard

History/ Politics/ Social analysis:
The People’s History of the United States - Howard Zinn
The Passion of the Western Mind - Richard Tarnas
The American Soul - Jacob Needleman
The Fourth Turning - Strauss and Howe
Conservatives without Conscience - John W. Dean
The Lucifer Principle - Howard Bloom
The Genius of the Beast - Howard Bloom
The Empathic Civilization - Jeremy Rifkin

Women’s Issues:
Heroine’s Journey - Maureen Murdock
The Hero’s Daughter - Maureen Murdock
Women Who Run with the Wolves - Clarissa Pinkla Estes
The Goddess Within - Woolger and Woolger
Circle of Stones - Judith Duerk
Writng a Woman’s Life - Carolyn G. Heilbrun
Reinventing Womanhood - Carolyn G. Heilbrun
A Voice of One’s Own - Perlman/Henderson
A Room of Her Own - Virginia Woolf


Year Three

Today is the third anniversary of my dad's death. In some ways, it feels like I have just begun the grieving process. I've been so busy learning how to be without him - how to represent him in the world now that he is gone, how to represent myself in the world now that he is gone - that I think I forgot to just feel the pain of it all.

I mean, I did feel pain, months and months of it. For awhile it felt like I had no skin. I was a raw, open, vulnerable vessel, and it was impossible. And so for awhile, I self-medicated my way to buffer the suffering. And I'm glad I did. It was too much. But, as we all know, when you delay the pain, that is all you are doing, delaying it. And so now I get to feel it, and that is okay, because I feel like now I CAN feel it, and hold it, and rock it like a baby and tell it, "It'll be okay. You will be okay."

I'm no longer afraid of the pain because I now see that it is my pain, and the more I feel it, the more I feel like myself. I am Kelly. I am a daughter. I am a woman. I am a thinker. I am a feeler. I am a writer. I am here to think and feel and write and share. This is who I am. I can't help it anymore than I could keep my father or mother from death. It is what it is.

This afternoon, I'll be going down to Venice to eat a cheeseburger in honor of my dad and his favorite hole in the wall bar. The memories I have with him and of him, I will stitch together into a little pouch and crawl into to find some warmth this week. And then I will let them echo through me as I step back into the river of life that rushes by and wants to take me along with it. But for a moment, it will be 1972, I will be seven, and my dad and I will be happily eating a cheeseburger enjoying our endless summer together.


Limelight Fears

Last night I shared the stage with my father at the Actor Gang's WTF? Festival. I screened by dad's favorite of his HBO specials, "Jammin' in NY," and then read from his memoir, "Last Words." Then I read a few of my own stories about my childhood.

For years, I have been reading these and other stories about my life around Los Angeles at different spoken word venues. I did these essays as a side dish to my life. Never taking them or myself very seriously. I didn't want them upsetting the apple cart - my relationship with my father. You see, he was a little uncomfortable with my chosen art form. It made him nervous that I stripped myself naked, metaphorically speaking, and spoke of the confusion, hopes and miracles that make up my life. He wanted to protect me from some kind of unknown harm - critics? The artist's life? The impossible life in the limelight?

Thanks to the community of friends and artists I now find myself immersed in, I am taking my art form and myself more seriously these days. They have been telling me to take the stage more often, and so I am finally listening to them and to my heart that has been telling me for years that I belong on a stage, telling my stories and speaking about how I see the world.

Identity is bullshit ultimately. Who I see myself as is, in the big picture, meaningless. But in other ways it is essential to make an X on the ground and say, "Here I stand. And from here I will do this." And so, I will take my mark. Stand my ground and go out and speak my truth. I mean after all, that is what the old man taught me everyday of HIS life.


More Fun With Busting Fears

This week was a lot mellower than last week. But got some shit done.

I finished all the accounting reconciliation finally. I am seeing my fear around money more and more clearly these days. I did not get healthy training when it came to money. My dad made it but hid from being an adult around spending, saving and investing, and mom just loved to spend it. And I was just given it too freely, for WAY too long. Not healthy. Not helpful. There was no such thing as fiscal responsibility in the Carlin household.

Therefore, I am schizophrenic around it. Part of me acts like my parents - spending without consequence. And part of me is really, really trying to do better - like looking at the bank balance everyday - it's like weighing myself everyday - accountability. At least I stopped putting shit on credit cards.

Ooooo. Oooooo. I got to do a really cool thing on Friday - I recorded a story of mine for an audio book! And GOT PAID FOR IT. My first money that I have made from MY writing (not with my husband as my partner - we used to write TV/Film stuff). It was funny how nervous I was about it all, and yet when I was there, it was so easy. I really loved it. My story is in an anthology book that should be coming out in January. The book is called Dirty Laundry (I think) and can be found here. My essay is about growing up in the shadow of my dad's fame. It's one of my favorites.

What else? Oh, yeah. Wrote a new bio:
Kelly Carlin is part Lucile Ball and part Marianne Williamson – in other words, she is not afraid to take a pie in the face in service of sharing her wisdom.

Whether Kelly is writing, speaking, teaching or coaching, her willingness to rip off her own “mask” always inspires a safe, sacred yet playful space for all to discover their own authentic humanity. This is not surprising considering she grew up at the knee of her father, George Carlin, who for decades masterfully wove great humor and deep truth as an entertainer. Having spent the last twenty years stumbling and bumbling along her own journey from the shadow of her father’s success to her own light of self-definition has given her a powerful insight into what we all ultimately crave - to be seen, heard and accepted for who we are under the mask we wear for the world.

Her professional life has taken her from behind the scenes in the world of TV/film to claiming the stage for her own creation of her one-woman show, Driven To Distraction. After two decades in the entertainment business, Kelly stepped away to get a new perspective, and in 2004 received her masters in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Kelly’s own brand of irreverent reverence can be seen and heard whether she is teaching individuals and groups how to claim their creative life through her Polymind Process, writing and performing her personal essays, interviewing legendary comedians for's On Comedy CD series or writing her upcoming memoir, called Now Appearing.

I'm outta here.

Have a great week.