Ego Check with The Id DM – Kelly Carlin on Legacy, Purpose & Resilience

I have been fortunate to be allowed to work from home since late March. During that time, I have thrown myself into a variety of home-based activities as my congenital heart condition gives me good reason to engage in social distancing to avoid exposure to coronavirus. First, our yard has never looked better! Second, I have been able to consume more slices of media that I otherwise might have missed and one such program was Laughing Matters: Carlin’s Legacy.

The program was released on George Carlin’s birthday (May 12th), and supports the National Comedy Center. The program seemed orchestrated by Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, and she speaks about the process of donating his copious notes and writings to the National Comedy Center and carrying his legacy forward. I have followed Kelly on social media for quite some time and have always been intrigued by her. After watching Laughing Matters I thought, “Wow, it would be fascinating to speak with her!”

Kelly Carlin
Kelly Carlin

After reaching out and learning she was interested in joining me on my Ego Check podcast, I did what any anxious person with a background in research and therapy would do – I prepared and took notes! I read her memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George, which was published in 2015. I watched her one-woman show, Driven to Distraction, and listened to some of her podcast episodes, which are informed by her life history and masters degree in Jungian Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.

I also revisited the performances from her father that certainly shaped my perspective about the world as a child in the 1980s and teenager in the 1990s. I grew up going to Catholic School and had a strict father that died suddenly in the line of duty as a New Jersey State Trooper when I was eight-years-old. The strict bedtimes gave way to staying up late, watching David Letterman (and reruns of Hart to Hart if I couldn’t fall asleep) and listening to my brother’s cassette tapes. One of the tapes I fondly recall listening to was George Carlin’s Classic Gold, a two-tape compilation of various routines and were hilarious and encouraged my brain to be skeptical of conventional wisdom.

If I were to make a Top 10 List of reasons why I gravitated toward a career in psychology and helping people, George Carlin and his quest to cleave through life’s bullshit is probably on that list.

My brother and I delighted in George Carlin performances such as Carlin on Campus and Jammin’ in New York. We knew the Greatest Cheer Ever word-for-word and would laugh uproariously while quoting Airline Announcements. Those routines were a shared language for my brother and our friends, and anything that my brother and I shared took on extra meaning and significance after his suicide in 2017. I have wondered how the concept of legacy may have kept my brother from living a meaningful life with joy, and I attempt to shape my own legacy with my son (age 3) by writing him emails that he can open when he’s 18-years-old or so…. that’s of course if we’re all still on the planet at that time, “Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away!”

So the opportunity to speak with Kelly Carlin about legacy seemed too good to be true. It did happen though!

Weaving in her psychological training, Kelly speaks about her journey toward finding her own meaning while also managing the weight of her father’s legacy. She discusses basking in his glow as a child and feeling trapped in his shadow as an adult, “There wasn’t space for another Carlin on stage when my dad was alive.” She explores how we all go through confusion about our self-identity and how she pursued graduate education in psychology to further understand herself and the world around her.

She talks about the powerful forces of “shame and greed” that hold us back and how we can overcome those forces to led meaningful lives, “I had to want the outcome of being seen and heard more than my fear of failure.”

I feel quite fortunate to have had this conversation with Kelly. I hope you find some meaning in it as well.

Listen to the episode here:

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High School Legacies & The Resonance of Cobra Kai

Folks, strap in because the following article is going to connect some threads that may leave you thinking, “Wow, he’s really thinking too much about Cobra Kai.” In fact, I already received this feedback a few months ago while writing about my enjoyment of the show on Facebook:

Cobra Kai The OC

I was seven-years-old when The Karate Kid was released in 1984, and like many others I grew up with it being a touchstone movie of my childhood. I certainly saw The Karate Kid Part II in the movie theater and I enjoyed various callbacks to the series in pop culture over the years such as Sweep The Leg by No More Kings and the video essay presenting the case that Daniel was the real bully in the original film. And I still get fired up whenever I hear ‘You’re The Best Around’ by Joe Esposito.

Resurrecting those characters and that franchise over 30 years later should not work. It did not work out well (for some) in Star Wars last month, and as Randal remarks in Clerks, “Let the past be the past.” And yet, Cobra Kai works on multiple levels and I remain delightfully dumbfounded by how effective it is. In an era of sequels, reboots and retcons, Cobra Kai manages to pay homage to the source material and give a slight wink to the audience while also taking the current premise seriously.

How do they manage this feat? And why did this show resonate with me?

Continue reading “High School Legacies & The Resonance of Cobra Kai”

My Walk onto Dragon Talk

I had the pleasure to be invited on the Dragon Talk podcast, which posted last week through Wizards of the Coast. They gave me the opportunity to talk about my charity efforts with Limitless Adventures to raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The book we created, No Assembly Required, remains available for $5 and all money goes to AFSP. My motivation for raising awareness and funds for this cause goes back to my brother ending his life by suicide in 2017, and you can learn more about how AFSP uses donations to educate the public, advocate for better policy, support survivors, and fund additional research on suicide through my interview with AFSP’s New Jersey Director. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss all of this and more on the Dragon Talk podcast.

The episode of Dragon Talk can be accessed through iTunes.

Dragon Talk
I consider the Gritty Eyes an enhancement to the overall experience.

Speaking openly about mental health issues is not a frequent thing in our society. Topics such as anxiety, depression and suicide are not accepted as widely as conversations about medical issues like diabetes or cancer. Because of this, I want to offer my sincere gratitude to hosts Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble in addition to everyone involved at Wizards of the Coast that allowed me to speak on Dragon Talk.

Thank you.

I previously interviewed Greg on my Ego Check podcast in December 2017 about his role as Senior Communications Manager for Dungeons & Dragons. He spoke lovingly about tabletop role-playing games and provided a compelling answer to the question, “What is D&D?” We had a nice conversation about the staff of 25 or so individuals that bring D&D products to life in addition to how the explosion of streaming and video delivery services has allowed the tabletop industry to expand its audience. Greg and I have stayed in contact periodically since that time, and I eventually asked him if I could come on his podcast, Dragon Talk, to talk about mental health and gaming.

Greg and Shelly were wonderful leading up to the interview as they wanted to ensure they were respectful of the topics being discussed. I was also aware that my discussion about mental health issues and gaming could come across as preachy, and that was not my intention. I believe we avoided any number of potential pitfalls during our hour-long conversation, and I again thank Greg and Shelly for committing to the topics.

Continue reading “My Walk onto Dragon Talk”

A Star Is Born With My Guard Down

Spoiler Warning: The following post contains numerous plot details for the film, A Star Is Born. I encourage you to see the film before reading any further. If you continue reading, multiple plot points will be ruined for you. Thank you.

Are you happy in this modern world?

My wife and I took some vacation time from work yesterday to have lunch together and see a movie. It was a rare weekday date for us while our son was in daycare. She picked me up from my office, we ate lunch at Wahlburgers in the Mall of America (she refrained from asking our waiter if he ever met Donnie), and went to see A Star Is Born at the mall’s new theater palace.

I stayed away from reviews because I knew I wanted to see the film, so I entered the theater with a blank slate. I knew there were prior versions of the same film, but I could not recall too many details about them. I assumed A Star Is Born would provide a compelling story and engaging music. I’ve found Lady Gaga to be an intriguing and impressive artist over the years; for example, I respected her dedication to a performance during the 2011 MTV Music Awards when she took on another persona and COMMITTED to that as she launched into You & I with Queen’s Brian May. I remember watching that, and just finding the whole thing so epic; the BALLS it took to do that. The creativity required to generate the idea and the fearlessness to execute it was inspiring. I recall showing it to my wife and saying, “You should watch this. It’s amazing.”

A Star Is Born
Jack & Ally

Meanwhile, I’ve been on board with Bradley Cooper since his performance as Sack in Wedding Crashers; probably the most I’ve ever laughed inside a movie theater. He’s provided quality performances in other movies too, and I gleaned from kinda-sorta, not looking at headlines that he took this movie with Lady Gaga very seriously.

So I had high hopes for A Star Is Born, and I assumed it would have something important to say.

My guard was down. I was not prepared.

I can only imagine what it would be like to see this film without living through the experience of my brother ending his life last year. You ever wish you could “unsee” a movie so it could surprise you all over again? I’d love to “unsee” The Shawshank Redemption, The Usual Suspects or Fight Club so I could experience that “ah-ha” moment all over again.

I imagine A Star Is Born would still be a powerful film to watch had my brother not decided to end his life. However, I only know this reality where I sat in my seat yesterday watching the final portion of the film – knowing and dreading what was unfolding before my eyes.

I am happy this movie exists, and I hope it increases the volume on a conversation about depression and mental health that is still much too quiet in this country and worldwide.

Continue reading “A Star Is Born With My Guard Down”

One Way I’m Saving vs. Grief

My first memories of Dungeons & Dragons were from watching the animated show on television and begging my brother’s friends to let me play in their game. My brother, Albie, was about five years older than me so I was forever chasing him and his crew. While my brother would rather be outside playing sports, some of his friends were into other hobbies – like listening to Iron Maiden and playing D&D. Every once in awhile, his friends would set up shop in our den and play through an adventure.

I was extremely jealous; I wanted to play as well!

I finally got my chance after I bothered my brother enough for him to tell his friends, “Let him play.” The first game of D&D I ever played featured me creating a Fighter. While I don’t recall the scenario, I do remember that we were exploring a cave and I was in the front line. Some monster attacked, and I took a swing at it. A member of the party threw a flask of oil toward the monster, and the oil spread to me as well. Another member lit the oil with a thrown torch, and just that quickly, my gaming experience was over as my Fighter died from burning to death.

It was clear my brother’s friends didn’t want this little kid playing in their adventure, and they found a clever (and cruel) way to get me out of the game quickly. My brother got me into the action though, and it allowed me to get a taste of the hobby. He didn’t have to go to bat for me with his friends. But he did.

Exactly one year ago today, my brother jumped in front of a train and ended his life.

I could write a book about our lives together, and one day I just might.

My brother (right) and I enjoying an elaborate party (long story!) for the Eagles/Bears playoff game in 2002. I’m wearing our father’s Army jacket.

There are portions of this post that will be difficult to write – and possible challenging to read. I’ll summarize first, and go into details second. For over a year, I have partnered with the creative minds at Limitless Adventures to update a collection of monsters I originally created for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I previously interviewed Andy Hand of Limitless Adventures in 2016, and after that interview we decided to take the monsters I created for my No Assembly Required series, which was originally hosted by the site, This Is My Game, convert them to 5th Edition, and package them into a book to sell through the Limitless Adventures site.

Though it has taken much longer than originally intended, the book is now available for purchase.

No Assembly Required Cover
Cover for No Assembly Required

Andy raised the possibility in recent months that we could use the sales from the book to benefit a charity, and I thought this was a brilliant idea. All money collected from sales of this book will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We priced the book to cost $5, and each sale of the book will result in $5 getting donated to AFSP. Continue reading “One Way I’m Saving vs. Grief”